We measure a state by a number of yardsticks: one of which is how it treats its sick, weak, vulnerable, helpless, abandoned, frightened, elderly and young. Because how you care for those who need support or a safety net at key moments in their lives does tend to give you an indication of how that particular state views its responsibility to its own citizens.
Orphanages and care homes are intended as places of sanctuary and safety for those who have already known far too much suffering and isolation in their young lives. I know what an orphanage is like. I was in one for almost two years; not a single day of which I can remember. Not one single day. Not one single moment. Not one single person – even though my adoptive parents told me that I had a brother with me who died while he was there.
I chose to close down and blank all of it out. I’ve been told that this ‘locking away of memories’ is common to many children who went into care of one form or another. It’s a way of coping. It’s a way a young, frightened mind brings down the hatches when life becomes too difficult to comprehend. I have no reason to believe that anything ‘bad’ happened to me while I was in care, yet it was still traumatising enough for me to have wiped the first six years of my life – including the four years before I went to the orphanage – from my memory bank.
Yet there are children from orphanages and care homes (some run by the state and some by religious organisations) who haven’t been able to bring down the hatches, who haven’t been able to put it in a box and bury it somewhere. They live with it every day. Every single day. They were abused when in care: bullied, beaten, raped and then made to feel that it was their fault. Made to feel that they were willing participants. Made to feel that they were being justly punished for something they had done. Made to feel that they deserved it. Made to feel that they were worthless, unloved and unwanted. Made to feel that they were so comprehensively insignificant and unimportant that nobody would believe a word they said. Made to feel that there was no-one, not one single person, they could trust.
Many of them left those homes – and I’m talking about the late 1940s to the 1970s – badly broken, irreparably damaged physically and psychologically. They found it difficult to form friendships, let alone trust anyone. Historical evidence and research suggests that many of them drifted into crime, alcoholism, drug dependency, depression, homelessness and decades of mental illness. Even those who managed to bring some sort of normalcy to their lives – to the extent of marriage and families – were often haunted.
Anyone who has been through the orphanage system carries the baggage with them for the rest of their lives. It goes with the territory and, as I say, most of us find ways of coping with it. But unknown numbers haven’t been able to cope with it. They haven’t been able to lead a normal life since they left care.
They have never had closure. They still carry a burden: a guilt that they were somehow responsible for what happened to them. Every time they hear of a Jimmy Savile, or a Rolf Harris, or a paedophile ring, or child prostitution, or abuse by priests and nuns, or a Kincora – then the horrors come flooding back.
Kincora has other dimensions, too. It now seems certain that children were trafficked for sex – either for the purposes of blackmailing someone, or else rewarding men for information and help they gave to the intelligence services.
Kincora isn’t just about a cover-up or the turning of a blind eye by some people in authority. What happened at Kincora was a deliberate tactic deployed as an anti-terror strategy. It was approved by senior figures in the UK’s intelligence services and it is very hard to believe that, somewhere along the line, it wasn’t given a ‘political’ nod of approval.
Can you understand the magnitude of this? UK intelligence services offered up children for sexual abuse. They offered them up to be raped. They regarded them as no more than collateral damage in a dirty war. Now then, there are number of ways of describing people who rape children and of those who provide them for rape. Evil bastards. Wicked, ruthless, amoral, heartless bastards: so steeped in the very wickedness they were supposed to stamp out that they themselves had become vehicles for evil.
I’m not naïve. I accept that terror and counter-terror is a dirty business. But there must be lines and boundaries which cannot be crossed, must not be crossed by those employed to protect the interests of the state. Those lines were crossed at Kincora. They were almost certainly crossed elsewhere too, because it seems very unlikely that Kincora was the only occasion in which vulnerable children and young adults were offered up for abuse and rape.
The government of the United Kingdom has a duty now. A duty to those who were – and remain – the victims of this abuse. A duty to ensure that the intelligence services of a supposedly civilised country are never allowed to do this again. A duty to ensure that it isn’t happening as we speak. A duty to put in the public domain every sordid, depraved detail.
We need a proper, stand alone investigation into Kincora. Every living staff member who was ever employed there. Every child. Every file. Every memory. Every recollection. No one should be above investigation. Age or infirmity should not be a barrier to the calling of witnesses. Neither the state nor the intelligence services must be allowed to hide behind rules, acts, interests or ‘too sensitive to be disclosed at this time’ mantras. No one, irrespective of how exalted or well known they may now be, or had become (if they have died), should expect protection.
The children who were abused at Kincora need – finally –to know that it wasn’t their fault. They weren’t to blame. They weren’t willing participants. And the rest of us need to know that there will never ever be another time when the rape of children is a tactic deployed by our intelligence services. I have no memories of my own time in an orphanage, but at least I can breathe a sigh of relief that it wasn’t Kincora.