updated 7/31/2008 11:41:54 AM ET 2008-07-31T15:41:54

Police have uncovered the mutilated remains of at least five children on the Channel Island of Jersey, but authorities investigating child abuse there believe they don't have enough evidence to start a murder inquiry, a senior officer said Thursday.

Deputy Chief Officer Lenny Harper told the British Broadcasting Corp. that the burned and scarred remains of children aged between 4 and 11 had been found in a building that once housed the Haut de la Garenne children's home. But he acknowledged that problems in precisely dating bones and teeth means a murder prosecution is now unlikely.

"There may not be the evidence there to mount a homicide inquiry and an attempt to bring anybody to justice for whatever crimes took place there," Harper said.

Police on the island state of Jersey, off the coasts of England and France, have investigated claims that more than 100 boys and girls were sexually abused decades ago.

Officers have excavated four underground chambers at the building, referred to as punishment rooms by some victims, and found shackles, a large bloodstained bath and 26 children's teeth.

Carbon dating key
Harper said there is evidence that children died at the home and that attempts were made to conceal the bodies in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But he said that if carbon dating techniques fail to offer specific dates for the murders, he won't be able to open a murder investigation.

"We were pinning our hopes on the process of carbon dating," Harper said. "The latest information we're getting is that for the period we're looking at, it's not going to be possible to give us an exact time of death."

Haut de la Garenne opened in 1867 as an industrial school where juvenile delinquents were housed. It later served as a children's home. After it was closed in 1986, the building was extensively renovated and reopened in 2004 as a youth hostel catering to budget travelers.

Inquiries at the site began in February after the discovery of what was initially thought to have been part of a child's skull. Police said dozens of former residents came forward claiming they had been drugged, raped or beaten by staff at the home.

Three men have been charged with sexual abuse offenses at the home between 1969 and 1980.

Jersey is not part of the United Kingdom; it is a territory owned by the British monarchy.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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