Kincora: witness amnesty in inquiry is welcomed by ex-Army officer and Amnesty International
Security witnesses who give evidence to the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry will not face prosecution, it can be revealed.
The inquiry said it had received a letter of assurance from the Attorney General in London after yesterday's Belfast Telegraph revealed Sir Anthony Hart's probe into abuse had not contacted three potentially key witnesses.
They include former Army officer Colin Wallace, who was involved in black propaganda during the Troubles.
But after he raised concerns with his superiors about the sexual abuse of boys at the notorious east Belfast home, Kincora, he was convicted of the manslaughter of a friend, before later being cleared and compensated.
Mr Wallace had been keen to assist the inquiry, but there were fears he would be unable to give evidence as it could lead to his prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.
Last night Mr Wallace welcomed the developments.
"My solicitor and I had not been informed of this despite queries but it is to be welcomed and it could clear the obstacles," he said.
However, he cautioned that it would take time to prepare evidence. "I have no problem with anything the HIA has said," he said.
"However, I shall need access to various documents that existed at Army HQ in Lisburn in 1974 if I am going to be able to make a meaningful contribution to the inquiry.
"I am sure Brian Gemmell will have the same problem," he said.
Mr Gemmell was a captain in charge of military intelligence in Belfast during the worst of the Kincora abuse.
He has claimed that he tried to raise his concerns about a paedophile ring operating at the boys' home, but was warned off by Ian Cameron, an MI5 officer who is now believed dead. Mr Wallace added: "My solicitor has asked the inquiry if he can be reimbursed for any work that he does in preparing my evidence, including the identification of the relevant documents.
"To date he has had no response to that request.
"Clearly, it is stretching the bounds of credibility to expect that as yet unnamed intelligence personnel who were aware of Kincora during the 1970s will willingly volunteer to assist the inquiry.
"The Government will need to identify to the inquiry all those who could have relevant information to offer."
The assurance has been welcomed by Patrick Corrigan, director of Amnesty International in Northern Ireland who said: “The allegations surrounding Kincora could scarcely be more disturbing - that MI5 turned a blind eye to child abuse and actively blocked a police investigation, instead using the paedophile ring for its own intelligence-gathering purposes.
“These assurances from government should pave the way for the former officers - otherwise bound by the Official Secrets Act - to finally speak freely to an official inquiry.”
A spokeswoman for the abuse inquiry yesterday confirmed a letter assuring immunity from prosecution had been received by Sir Anthony on January 8.
It also removes the threat of prosecution for other ordinary offences which witnesses might admit to when giving evidence to the inquiry. This is similar to arrangements in operation during the Bloody Sunday Inquiry.
The letter states: "It is further undertaken that in any criminal proceedings brought against any person who provides evidence, as defined above, to the inquiry, no reliance will be placed upon evidence which is obtained during an investigation as a result of the provision by that person of evidence to the inquiry."
However, it adds that if a witness gives false evidence to the inquiry, conspires with others to lie, or gets another witness to lie, they can still be prosecuted.
The Attorney General's letter concludes: "This undertaking does not preclude the use of documents, information and/orevidence identified independently of the evidence provided by that person to the inquiry.
"For the avoidance of doubt, I can confirm that the undertaking covers any allegation of an offence arising under the Official Secrets Acts."
The inquiry also revealed that it had asked the Government to provide it with all files relating to Kincora by the end of this month.
Sir Anthony Hart is inquiring into institutional abuse and part of his remit is Kincora Boys' Home in the 70s, where an intelligence cover-up has been alleged. Two former Army officers, Colin Wallace and Brian Gemmell, and Roy Garland, who reported his suspicions at the time, have all offered to assist.