Belfast Telegraph

Kincora: Time we knew full truth of Belfast's house of horrors

Kincora: the name became a byword for depraved sex attacks on children in care. Is the scandal that threatened to bring the political establishment here crashing down finally about to give up its secrets 35 years on? Ivan Little reports

Dark secrets: Kincora Boys' Home in east Belfast, where children were abused for years
Dark secrets: Kincora Boys' Home in east Belfast, where children were abused for years

Amid the non-stop conveyor belt of justice at the old Crumlin Road courthouse in Belfast at the time, a depraved group of senior civil servants, paramilitaries and politicians must have been hoping against hope as they watched the television news that the guilty pleas from the three men in the dock would be the end of their worries.

Court Number One wasn't exactly packed to the rafters as Kincora Boys' Home officials Billy McGrath, Raymond Semple and Joseph Mains whispered their one-word admissions to the 23 sex abuse charges against them in December 1981.

I and a small number of other reporters on the Press benches readied ourselves to take notes of what we expected would be a deluge of revelations about what the trio had done to at least 11 boys in their care between 1960 and 1980.

But the full story never came out during the proceedings. And if it hadn't been for a briefing for a couple of us sitting on a window ledge in the courthouse by a senior RUC detective, it would have been even more difficult to tell what we did of the story of shameful abuse in bedrooms, toilets, landings and the TV room of the home, which stood on the Upper Newtownards Road at its junction with North Road.

Boys were sent there by the courts, or because it was thought they were in moral danger, but their problems were just beginning after they went through the front door of the detached house.

Mains, the warden at Kincora, was jailed for six years, while McGrath, a housefather, and Semple got four years apiece.

With so many sensational court cases and horrific murders vying for the headlines, it was probably assumed that the Kincora scandal might disappear into the shadows where a number of other guilty men were skulking, thinking that their secrets would never be uncovered.

But, bit by bit, the drip-feed of disclosures turned from a trickle to a torrent. One of the Kincora officials, McGrath, was a prominent Orangeman who had once boasted in the papers that he was learning Irish. But he was also believed to have been involved in a little-known paramilitary organisation called Tara, made up of fanatical Protestant extremists.

McGrath was also linked to a number of mainstream loyalists and it was rumoured there were influential political figures who were among the low-lifes involved in the child sex ring associated with Kincora.

It was alleged that McGrath was an MI5 agent, whose sexual assaults were covered up.

Senior military figures claimed that the RUC knew about the abuse at Kincora for years.

But it was only after Belfast journalist Peter McKenna exposed the 'Sex Racket At Children's Home' in the Irish Independent in January 1980 that any official action was taken.

The cover-up was said to have gone right to the top. Sir Maurice Oldfield, a former head of MI6, was reportedly seen by his Special Branch protection officers associating with boys from Kincora.

Another name mentioned in relation to Kincora was that of Red Hand Commando leader John McKeague, who was shot dead by the INLA in Belfast in January 1982 shortly after reports that he had been interviewed by police about the sex abuse at the boys' home.

A unionist councillor, Joss Cardwell, took his own life in 1983 after he was questioned by police. He was chairman of a council welfare committee and said he had statutory visiting responsibilities in relation to care homes. The Rev Ian Paisley was accused of failing to report McGrath's abuse to police.

A member of his church, Valerie Shaw, claimed she told the DUP leader about McGrath's homosexual activities eight years before he was arrested and brought to court.

"I approached Dr Paisley on at least seven occasions," she said in TV interviews. "I asked him time and time again what he intended to do about this. My concern all along was very much for the fact that there were young boys under the threat of this man's (McGrath's) corruption."

Dr Paisley denied the allegations against him and responded by calling for a full judicial inquiry. He said Ms Shaw did tell him about McGrath's homosexuality, but not that he worked at Kincora. He said he regretted that Ms Shaw didn't take her concerns to the police, but she countered that she had.

Amid claims of a widespread cover-up, the top man in the RUC, Sir John Hermon, called in an outside Chief Constable to investigate, but there were reports that it was obstructed by Establishment figures here and across the water.

What was called a "private inquiry" was set up in January 1982 by the then Secretary of State Jim Prior to probe the Kincora scandal, but it fell apart after three members resigned, claiming the RUC hadn't carried out an effective investigation. Prior later established another inquiry under Judge William Hughes, but most of his recommendations were about the operation of children's homes and care for young people generally.

And the question of exactly who was involved in the abuse at Kincora and who knew about it has never been fully addressed.

In January last year there was another whiff of cover-up after the release of Government papers under the 30-year rule from 1982 contained the scantest of references to Kincora.

But the Kincora issue has now been thrown back into the spotlight in the wake of the ordering by Home Secretary Theresa May of an inquiry into how the Government dealt with claims of paedophile activity at Westminster several decades ago.

Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International here has called for Kincora to be included in the UK inquiry.

He conceded that Kincora was part of the public inquiry into historical institutional abuse here, but said it had only limited powers and couldn't compel the release of files from Whitehall or the secret services.

"Given the nature of the allegations over Kincora, this is exactly where any secrets are likely to lie buried," he added.

The allegations at the centre of the May inquiry have parallels with Kincora.

It's claimed that prominent politicians – including Liberal MP Cyril Smith – attended parties at Elm Guest in south-west London and abused young boys and had sex with rent boys.

According to several national newspaper reports, police in London have seized a list of names of people who visited Elm House.

They allegedly included a high-ranking policeman, a wealthy tycoon, a number of senior politicians, pop stars, National Front members and a Sinn Fein figure.

Victim Chris Massey interview from BBC Good Morning Ulster

Chris Massey interview part 2


Further reading

I will reveal the secrets, says ex-Army officer Colin Wallace

Kincora: MI5 knew about it but did nothing, that much is certain 

Full story of Kincora Boys' Home in east Belfast yet to be told, says child sex abuse victim

Kincora: Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt joins calls for inquiry into abuse at boys' home

Baroness's brother 'tried to limit probe into Kincora'

Kincora: MI5 'must hand over files on abuse at east Belfast boys' home' 

Editor's viewpoint: We must know truth of Kincora

Child abuse inquiry must look at Kincora Boys' Home, says Amnesty International

MI5 'blocked exposure of Kincora sex abuse scandal'

Kincora Boy's Home scandal: South African intelligence 'secretly backed loyalist paramilitary group Tara'

Kincora Boys' Home scandal: journalist Peter McKenna dies

State papers: The perjury that allowed Kincora suspect preacher to walk

Westminster’s dark secret: abuse of children, adultery, homosexuality and sadomasochism were all seemingly lumped together

Civil servant Mark Sedwill admits Home Office ‘probably’ destroyed paedophile dossiers 

Westminster child abuse dossier: Geoffrey Dickens also gave copy of file to top prosecutor Sir Thomas Hetherington - so why did DPP fail to act on evidence of paedophile ring? 

Historic child abuse files missing

Tory peer Lord Brittan defends handling of 1980s sex abuse dossier

Abuse claims police matter - Clegg

Abuse probe 'into soul of society'

From the archives

Kincora: Sex racket at children's home (Irish Independent, 1980)

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