Why we need to know the truth about Kincora

12 Aug 2015 Nick Garbutt    Last updated: 12 Aug 2015

Why is Secretary of State Theresa Villiers so determined to ensure that allegations about child abuse at Kincora Boys Home in Belfast does not form part of the UK investigation? 

Widespread sexual abuse of vulnerable children was one of the great crimes of the last century.

Clerical abuse has been well documented, as indeed have attempts by the Catholic Church in particular, to cover it up. The revelations about the late Jimmy Savile, prompted more victims to come forward, and a string of celebrities who abused their fame and power to exploit young people, have been appearing before the courts.

More recently there have been a series of allegations about politicians and others in Establishment circles who appear to have sexually assaulted children in care homes: youngsters so vulnerable that if they dared to complain, they were simply not believed.

Sexual Blackmail

For many years now there have been serious concerns about what happened at Kincora in East Belfast, an institution run by William McGrath who was known to be a member of the shadowy Far Right loyalist group Tara.

Over the years it has been alleged that McGrath was on the payroll of intelligence services who were aware of what was going on at Kincora and blocked attempts to raise concerns. Some journalists have suggested he was “turned” by threats of sexual blackmail. Further to that all sorts of allegations have been made about people who abused children from the home, including senior politicians and other establishment figures.

Search on the internet and you will find all sorts of prominent figures linked to the home. It is extremely disturbing.

Of course there is no way of verifying these claims or whether intelligence services were involved and who was involved in abuse. They could be wild conspiracy theories. However given the extraordinary revelations about celebrities and politicians we need a thorough investigation. This is an example of where getting to the truth trumps “security considerations”. Because after all who could be proud of living in a state whose intelligence services sanctioned and exploited child abuse, if that does, indeed prove to be the case?

Child Protection 

So why is Theresa Villiers so stridently opposed to including Kincora in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse chaired by Judge Lowell which will examine allegations about paedophile rings involving people in high places?

After all it is really none of her business. Child protection is a devolved matter and therefore nothing to do with her. And the Independent Inquiry was set up by her colleague Theresa May, so the decision on the extent of the inquiry, should not be within her portfolio either. It’s a matter between the Home Office and the Northern Ireland administration.

However May takes the same line and has blocked the inquiry from including Kincora on the grounds that it is already being investigated by Northern Ireland’s separate Historical Abuse Inquiry.

Villiers and May argue that as child protection is a matter for the Northern Ireland government, that’s where the inquiry should stay.

This sounds fair enough except for three matters.

The first is that the alleged paedophile rings did not respect such jurisdictional differences. The claim is that there were networks operating across the UK and offshore.

For example Richard Kerr a former inmate at Kincora has claimed that boys, including himself were trafficked across the UK.

Gathering Evidence 

It would make much more sense to have a single body investigating all such allegations: both in Jersey, also currently excluded and Kincora.

That would avoid the current nonsense which is characterising police investigations. To date seven separate forces are now investigating claims of abuse being made about former Prime Minister Ted Heath. There should be a national crime unit for the investigation of paedophilia, separately resourced with appropriate expertise.

Secondly the Northern Ireland inquiry has its critics amongst victims, victims groups and their lawyers, which has seen a furious row over the inquiry’s refusal to grant legal aid to victims with some victims retaliating by refusing to sign statements.

Trite Excuses

There have also been complaints about alleged inadequacies in counselling services offered to victims.

But the key issue is that the Northern Irish inquiry is not equipped to investigate the most serious allegations involving MI5 because unlike Judge Goddard’s investigation it does not have powers to compel evidence from MI5 and the Ministry of Defence.

That is why the Northern Ireland Assembly passed a motion, which did not even have to be voted on, for Kincora to be investigated by Goddard, as follows:

That this Assembly notes with deep concern the allegations of sexual abuse that took place in Kincora Boys' Home during the 1970s and 1980s; further notes allegations that senior politicians, military personnel, paramilitary figures and businessmen from Northern Ireland and Great Britain were involved in the commissioning and subsequent cover-up of the abuse, as well as allegations that members of the intelligence service were complicit in a cover-up of this scandal; believes that the nature and seriousness of the allegations, especially that MI5 was involved in a cover-up, means that this cannot be adequately considered in any way other than a Westminster Government-led inquiry

This is a very rare, perhaps unique example of all parties in Northern Ireland asking for a devolved issue to be dealt with by Westminster because it lacks the appropriate powers.

The Westminster Home Affairs Committee agreed and resolved that Kincora should be included in Goddard’s investigation only to be turned down by May, with the backing of Villiers.

Given that nobody in Northern Ireland, be it politicians, voluntary sector groups or lawyers working for victims agrees with this approach, because even supporters of the NI inquiry believe it doesn’t have the necessary powers why is this happening?

The trite line that child protection is a devolved matter doesn’t wash.

Join the Conversation...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this article.
Join us on Twitter and join the conversation today.

Join Our Newsletter

Get the latest edition of ScopeNI delivered to your inbox.