Belfast Telegraph

'I'm haunted by survivor's guilt... it helps to have my story heard'

By Liam Clarke

They came at night, they broke down a door and took my mother away in a straightjacket. They put me and my sister into a black car. We were in court the next day and the judge says we will be in care until the age of 18."

Richard Kerr was describing the night, December 16, 1966, when his family home off Botanic Gardens in Belfast finally fell apart and he was taken into care, initially at Williamson House in north Belfast.

He was the most vulnerable of youngsters, split off from his siblings and his parents.

The serious abuse started when he was aged just eight. The first man who assaulted him, he claims, was Eric Witchell, an Anglican lay monk later jailed for abusing other boys at Williamson House, of which he was headmaster.

"The boys' rooms were on the left on the ground floor. The girls' rooms were on the top.

"It was divided into two homes, one for the Protestants and one for the Catholics, but there was a door with a key.

"The abuse started when Eric Witchell opened up the door and came through to the landing at night. My bed was the closest to the door.

"He came through, got into my bed. I was on my side, I had a teddy bear. I was biting into that while he had his hand down my backside and fumbled around," he said, adding that full sex started in later encounters.

"He just said 'I like you, I like you'. He wasn't wearing a clerical collar at that time but he did when he visited me in borstal. They let all my abusers in.

"The borstal was in Millisle."

There is no evidence that staff at Millisle knew they were admitting a child abuser; Rev Witchell had no convictions at that point.

Mr Kerr says he disclosed the abuse to a female member of staff but she was moved before any action could be taken.

The disturbed and abused teenager was moved to Kincora at the age of 14 in 1975. "The sexual abuse increased, there was more of it more often" he explained.

He became the favourite of Joseph Mains, the warden, who said he had been fond of another boy who had died and promised to look out for Mr Kerr. He and his friend Stephen Warren used to sneak out at night and break into places, and he also stole from the staff.

Despite this he became more trusted by Mains, who claimed to really care for him, and was trusted to go and pick men up and bring them to Kincora.

"I was told not to ask any questions. I was trying to please Joseph Mains. These men, some of them were good to me, and I didn't have anyone else to turn to."

He now recalls where some of the men lived and is prepared to disclose that to an inquiry.

Stephen Warren later ran away from Kincora to Liverpool but was caught. He fell overboard from a ferry on the way home in what is thought to have been a suicide attempt.

Mr Kerr also self-harmed, his arms bear the scars, as well as trying to kill himself.

"I have survivor's guilt, I owe it to all those boys to speak out to try and prevent this happening again," he said.

He added: "Eric Witchell was involved with Joseph Mains. They were all friends or connected.

"Kincora was the main information centre for all the other children's homes in Northern Ireland and I later learnt there were connections in England."

His time in Kincora ended when he was in court for theft and he threatened to tell all. As a result he was released into the care of Mains and later given a ticket to Liverpool. "A woman gave it to me with some money and told me not to come back. I was an embarrassment to her and to the Government," he said.

He says Eric Witchell introduced him to two men who he said would put him up in Manchester.

"They had other boys living with them. They took photographs of us tied up with our clothes off to put in boys' magazines. They said they were sending some to Amsterdam."

He was later taken to London where, now in his late teens, he worked as a bellboy and male prostitute.

At this point he started to talk to friends about the abuse at Kincora. After one discussion in a restaurant he was visited by men who claimed to be from the secret services, put handcuffs on him and warned him to shut up.

Later police arrived at the bed and breakfast in Kings Cross and apologised.

But he got the message and stayed silent for years. "It is a big help to me to have my story listened to now and not buried," he said.

This week Mr Kerr went back to visit the Kincora home for the first time in almost three decades.

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