Belfast Telegraph

'Compel witnesses' to give evidence

Naomi Long claims scandals including the brutal paedophile ring who abused boys from the Kincora home in Belfast are linked by allegations of an MI5 cover-up
Naomi Long claims scandals including the brutal paedophile ring who abused boys from the Kincora home in Belfast are linked by allegations of an MI5 cover-up

Witnesses in historic child abuse cases should be forced to give evidence as victims deserve more than promises of co-operation from Government agencies, MPs have heard.

Scandals including Rotherham, Rochdale and the brutal paedophile ring who abused boys from the Kincora home in Belfast are linked by allegations of an MI5 cover-up, Alliance Party MP Naomi Long said.

And it would be "utterly naive" to expect former security and intelligence service officials to voluntarily give evidence if they could face prosecution, Ms Long said.

She reiterated demands for the Official Secrets Act to be temporarily suspended to ensure full evidence emerged in connection to the Kincora investigation.

Ms Long added the Government-commissioned UK-wide probe into historic abuse - chaired by Lord Mayor of London Fiona Woolf - should also have statutory powers to compel witnesses to give evidence, as she warned state institutions had previously failed the victims.

Kincora will not be covered by the inquiry, with the allegations to be investigated through an ongoing Northern Ireland-specific inquiry into institutional abuse in the region.

It has long been alleged that well-known figures in the British establishment, including senior politicians, were involved in the abuse of vulnerable boys living in the infamous Kincora facility in east Belfast in the 1970s.

It has also been claimed that the UK security services knew about the crimes but did nothing to stop them.

Instead, it is alleged they used the knowledge to blackmail and extract intelligence from influential men who were committing abuse.

Moving an adjournment debate in the Commons, Ms Long said: "It is utterly naive to believe that former members of the security and intelligence services would volunteer to give evidence if they could face prosecution.

"It is therefore imperative that the UK Government authorises disclosure of all relevant information held in order to examine and fully address the persistent allegations surrounding Kincora.

"That will also require a temporary and limited suspension of the Official Secrets Act in order that they are able to do so."

The Belfast East MP added: "The child abuse which has recently come to light in Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford, to name but a few, are national scandals. So too is Kincora.

"The fact Kincora is located in Northern Ireland with the allegations concerning a period in the Troubles should not be hindrance to the investigation of these crimes and any subsequent cover-up by Government agencies.

"They are also linked to Kincora by the allegation of MI5 involvement in cover-up."

Conservative former minister Tim Loughton asked Ms Long how the UK-wide inquiry would incorporate the Northern Irish case.

He said: "The problem is that the investigation panel set up under (Home Secretary Theresa May) here does not have statutory powers of subpoena and relies on the goodwill of those witnesses coming forward to disclose all documents and the Government has offered its full co-operation.

"Do you think that will still prove a problem if the UK-wide investigation does include Kincora as well and that the security services will refuse to co-operate, and if so what do you suggest the Government do to alter the terms of the inquiry?"

Ms Long replied: "I believe it should have statutory powers and should be able to compel witnesses because I believe that those who were affected by the abuse and believe that abuse was covered up require something slightly more than promises of co-operation when it was the state and people in these institutions that failed them originally."

She said the seriousness of the allegations meant that nothing less than the "fullest independent investigation" and disclosure of all evidence will satisfy the victims and survivors.

She said: "The Home Office inquiry has the possibility to be a better vehicle for full exposure of the truth of what went on behind the door of an unassuming house less than a mile from my constituency office, less than a five-minute walk from my home.

"Kincora did not exist in a bubble. Some of those later convicted of child sex offences in Britain, for example, also worked in the Northern Ireland care system and while never convicted for offences in Northern Ireland, I have been presented with information from those who claim that they too were abused by those individuals."

Replying for the Government, Home Office Minister Norman Baker said the inquiry led by Ms Woolf would consider if public bodies and non-state institutions took seriously their duty of care to protect children from sexual abuse.

He said it would challenge individuals or institutions "without fear or favour", adding that there were "very good and powerful" reasons why it would focus on England and Wales.

Mr Baker said: "I know how concerned MPs are about the horrible offences that took place at Kincora and about the perception that justice for the victims of those terrible crimes has not been properly served.

"I entirely understand those concerns. I'm also aware of the concern expressed and debated in the Northern Ireland Assembly. I know their concern is shared by all the people of Northern Ireland.

"The coalition Government is determined that everything possible is done to uncover the truth about what happened and that appropriate action is taken.

"If there's any difference in view, it's only in the way it should be done."

Mr Baker went on: "Because the protection of children is a devolved matter, it would clearly be less appropriate for the inquiry panel chaired by Fiona Woolf to make recommendations for Northern Ireland concerning the running of current child protection systems there."

He said the Northern Ireland historical abuse inquiry, chaired by Sir Anthony Hart, had wide powers to require people and bodies to produce evidence, although this did not extend to the UK Government.

On allegations of blackmail and cover-up, Mr Baker said: "I make it perfectly plain from the despatch box that I expect those matters to be dealt with by Sir Anthony Hart's inquiry and it would be incomplete if it did not do so.

"I also make it plain that I would encourage him to make it very clear if he feels in any way that his efforts to uncover the truth are being thwarted."

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