Security chiefs at MI5 and MI6 have told a public inquiry there is no evidence they knew about or covered up child abuse at the former Kincora Boys’ Home.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has also rejected allegations that its staff deliberately withheld information about illegal activities at the east Belfast facility and used it as part of a propaganda operation, the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIA) has heard.
In a statement, a senior MI6 manager, known only as Officer A, said a review of documents had found nothing to substantiate persistent claims of state-sponsored child prostitution and blackmail.
He said: “I have seen nothing to indicate any involvement on the part of Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) officers in abuse at the Kincora Boys’ Home or in any attempts to cover it up.
“SIS does not exploit children or vulnerable adults for operational purposes nor tolerate their abuse by the staff or those that work in their behalf or in their support, including SIS agents.”
It has long been alleged that a high-ranking paedophile ring preyed on vulnerable teenage boys at Kincora during the 1970s.
It is further claimed that the UK security services knew about the abuse but did nothing to stop it, instead using the information to blackmail and extract intelligence from the influential men, including senior politicians, who were the perpetrators.
In 1981, three senior care workers at Kincora – warden Joseph Mains, deputy warden Raymond Semple and house master William McGrath – were jailed for abusing boys.
It is widely believed McGrath, who also led a shadowy Protestant paramilitary organisation, was working as an MI5 agent.
In a separate statement submitted to the inquiry, the deputy director of MI5, who has been given the cipher 9004, said its officials only became aware of the Kincora abuse was when it was exposed by the media.
He said: “The first MI5 knew about the allegations of sexual exploitation at Kincora was when the stories emerged in the media in 1980 and the RUC (Royal Ulster Constabulary) investigations.”
MI5 also failed to find any papers to indicate McGrath was allowed to continue the abuse.
“There’s nothing amongst them to indicate that MI5 was aware of or suspected his involvement in child sexual exploitation at Kincora or that such abuse was permitted, condoned or encouraged in order to further any MI5 plan,” the statement added.
Military officials have also denied claims that the MoD was part of a cover-up.
Jonathan Duke-Evans, head of public inquiries, claims and judicial reviews, said in a witness statement the MoD did not accept that information was deliberately withheld.
He said: “Having carried out extensive reviews, the MoD has found no evidence that members of the armed forces or any other person employed by the MoD was aware of allegations that Mr McGrath had abused or been responsible for the abuse of inmates at Kincora.
“It is not accepted that any such person held any such information from the police or sought to use it in any propaganda operation.”
It is the first time the long-running inquiry at Banbridge Courthouse has heard from the intelligence and security services.
Barrister Joseph Aiken, counsel for the HIA, said the team had received full co-operation and was given unrestricted access to previously top secret files.
MI5 has also pledged to make available a senior manager with responsibility for investigations in Northern Ireland to attend public evidence sessions, it was revealed.
“All questions asked by the inquiry have been answered,” he said.
Such has been the level of co-operation from the MoD that emails were sent from Whitehall at 4am, Mr Aiken added.
The inquiry was also shown an MI6 information card on McGrath, dated 1976, which claimed he may have been a member of the UVF, ran a Christian fellowship centre which preached bigotry and anti-Catholic sermons, and was reported to be a homosexual.
He was also described as being “eccentric and unstable”.
The HIA was set up by the Northern Ireland Executive in 2013 and has been examining allegations of physical, emotional and sexual abuse at state and church-run residential institutions between 1922 and 1995.
It is chaired by retired High Court judge Sir Anthony Hart, sitting alongside Geraldine Doherty, a former head of the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work in Scotland, and David Lane, who was director of social services in Wakefield, West Yorkshire.
Campaigners had hoped to have Kincora included in the nationwide child abuse probe chaired by New Zealand judge Lowell Goddard because the HIA does not have the power to compel witnesses.
However, a legal challenge to overturn the Government’s refusal was rejected as “premature” by a High Court judge last month. An appeal was also turned down.
The inquiry continues.