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Officials were split on Kincora inquiry

Lord Hailsham toldJim Prior that Kincora met the criteria for a full inquiry

Lord Hailsham toldJim Prior that Kincora met the criteria for a full inquiry

 

Officials were split on whether to hold a wide-ranging public inquiry into the Kincora scandal in a bid to end the lurid allegations or whether to restrict the terms of reference in a bid to stop such speculation escalating.

In the end, a restrictive inquiry under the Health and Social Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1972, rather than a broad probe under the Tribunals of Enquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 was set up under the chairmanship of Judge Hughes.

One of the two Kincora files released at the Public Record Office in Belfast contains an unsigned eight-page briefing about which form of inquiry would be desirable.

That detailed document pointed out serious problems with the limited form of inquiry ultimately set up.

It said that such a probe would be limited to management issues, adding: “An attempt to go down this same route again [after a previous inquiry collapsed], notwithstanding the fact that police investigations would have been completed, would not command public confidence and cannot be regarded as a satisfactory response to public concern.”

The advice did not recommend an alternative, but appeared to heavily favour a wide-ranging inquiry under the 1921 Act, as called for by many politicians at the time.

Exploring the possibility of that option, the paper goes into great detail - some five pages - noting that the cost (upwards of £1 million) and strain on the legal profession in Northern Ireland were potential difficulties but stressing that such an inquiry could not be accused of hiding the truth.

And the Lord Chancellor, Lord Hailsham, told Secretary of State Jim Prior in February 1982 that the criteria for a having a fully inquiry under the 1921 Act were probably met by the Kincora scandal.

A note of his meeting with Mr Prior records: “Although it could be desirable to undertake an inquiry using powers other than those of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921, this might not prove possible...In the Lord Chancellor’s view the criteria of the 1921 Act were likely to be met by the circumstances of the 1921 affair.”

But that same month, a memo to the Secretary of State and senior officials by civil servant DJ Wyatt warned of serious dangers from holding a wide-ranging public investigation.

He said that it was possible that “whatever else such a [wide-ranging] tribunal might do for good or ill, it will draw a line under the whole sorry story in a way that nothing else will.

“I think that proposition in the peculiar political climate of Northern Ireland is at best debatable and at worst dangerous.

“The fact of the matter is that gossip and rumour in press and political circles in Northern Ireland over Kincora has now reached a point where stories are circulating which can never be killed because no one knows where they come from nor are they supported by even a pretence of evidence.

“People give them credence because they want to give them credence; an example of what in a similar context was described as the nauseating spectacle of the British people indulging in one of their periodic fits of morality.”

He went on: “Clearly the enquiry will be necessary to answer the real and only worrying questions of how on earth for so many years such homes could be administered in a way which permitted such practices to continue.

“Whatever the form of the enquiry, the rumour and scandal-mongering will go on diminuendo thereafter until interest fixes on something else.

“But if the Government has endorsed the view that rumours and innuendos should be examined by the panoply of a 1921 Tribunal it will have given them credence in a way which will make their persistence the more damaging.”

Some information in the file has been withheld as it is “personal information”.

 

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