Kincora file conspicously absent from government records

The former Kincora Boys Home in East Belfast. Picture: Pacemaker
The former Kincora Boys Home in East Belfast. Picture: Pacemaker

AMONG the hundreds of files from 1982 released at the Public Record Office in Belfast, there is no file on the Kincora scandal.

The serial abuse of boys at the home for orphans had emerged publicly in 1980 and the most notorious abuser, William McGrath, was jailed in December 1981.

The following month, January 1982, Secretary of State Jim Prior set up an inquiry, which was to sit in private, to investigate the Kincora scandal.

That investigation never got off the ground as just a month later three of the five inquiry members resigned because they felt that the RUC had not dealt with all the criminal matters surrounding what had gone on at the home.

However, despite McGrath, who was working for MI5, having had links to loyalist paramilitaries and the fact that there was enormous public interest and speculation about what had gone on, there is no file dedicated to Kincora or to the public inquiry set up by the NIO.

Two years later, in 1984, another inquiry into abuse at nine children’s homes — including Kincora — was set up by Mr Prior.

Among the other files released by the Public Record Office in Belfast under the 30-year rule, the News Letter found passing references to the situation and its political implications.

However, there are tens of thousands of pages and many millions of words there are likely to be other references to the scandal.

There is mention of Kincora in a note by Sir Leonard Figg, British Ambassador to Dublin, of separate meetings he had with Roman Catholic cardinal Tomas O’Fiaich and Church of Ireland primate Archbishop John Armstrong in February 1982.

Mr Figg wrote: “Both the cardinal and the archbishop of course loathe Paisley and have their Paisley stories.

“The Cardinal, in fact, has never met his Free Presbyterian brother, but the archbishop has. The latest contact was made by Paisley, hoping that the archbishop would join with him and other churchmen to discuss the Kincora sex scandal with the Secretary of State.

“Archbishop Armstrong told me that he had had a very strong steer from the RUC to have nothing to do with such an approach and had turned down Paisley accordingly.

“This had led to two of Paisley’s aides making atrocious and abusive telephone calls to the archbishop personally.”

The month after that note was written, Dr Paisley’s church magazine, The Revivalist, carried an article about the refusal of the main church leaders to join him in a delegation to visit the Secretary of State to discuss the affair.

The then DUP leader claimed there had been a “conspiracy to smear me”, though he did not suggest that any of the church figures were involved.

There was a discussion of the Kincora scandal at a meeting between NIO official Stephen Leach and UUP press officer Frank Millar in May 1982.

Mr Leach’s note of the meeting records: “Millar expressed the strong hope (on which I did not comment) that the judicial enquiry would not begin before the Assembly election and that the whole affair would die a natural death. (He has a clear interest in trying to minimise the publicity, since he is married to William McGrath’s daughter and is a former head of the now disbanded ‘Ireland’s heritage’ Orange lodge).

“He also alluded to the current gossip that Joshua Cardwell, the highly respected east Belfast councillor who died recently, in fact committed suicide after being questioned by the police over Kincora. (For several years in the 1960s Cardwell chaired the old Belfast Corporation Committee which was responsible for childrens’ homes in the city).”

Another file briefly mentions Kincora. David Blatherwick in the NIO’s political affairs division sent a confidential memo on January 28, 1982, to the head of the Civil Service, addressed to NIO official DJ Wyatt and others.

Referring to a conversation with David Trimble which largely focuses on the state of the UUP, the note contains a heading ‘Kincora’ and says: “Trimble noted glumly that all the dirt to come out was likely to stick to the UUP. All the DUP members involved had since joined the UUP.”

Another reference to Kincora is made in a ‘stocktaking’ file which contains brief comments on current issues.

Under the heading ‘Kincora’, a memo from February 8, 1982 said: “Press speculation about ‘cover-ups’ had continued during the period following the conviction last December of William McGrath for offences against boys ... (McGrath was prominent in certain Orange and loyalist circles in Belfast).

“Ian Paisley, who originally denied any knowledge of the affair before it became public in early 1980, admitted on January 26 that he had known of McGrath’s homosexuality in 1975, but continued to maintain that he was unaware until 1980 that he was warden of Kincora Boys’ Home.

“An inquiry into the Kincora affair under the chairmanship of a former Northern Ireland Ombudsman has been announced by the Government.

“On 31 January Lord Brookeborough (ex-UPNI Assembly member and son of the former Northern Ireland premier) called for a full public judicial inquiry [something which Dr Paisley was also calling for] and commented: ‘Does Mr Paisley seriously expect the public to believe that he did not know the occupation and the daily place of work of a man who preached from the pulpit of his church?”

There is a file on child abuse, though it makes no reference to Kincora. It does make clear how little was known about child abuse by those within government who were responsible for collating the information.

A WJ Kirkpatrick, seemingly in the Department of Health and responsible for the government’s response to child abuse, wrote to a Mr MA Nelson in the Southern Health and Social Services Board in response to a request for statistics on child abuse and neglect in Northern Ireland.

Mr Kirkpatrick said: “Unfortunately reliable statistics on the incidence of child abuse are about as plentiful as ‘growth funds’ or good summer days in 1980.

“The attached table would exhaust the stock of information we have.

“It is merely adding together the returns sent to us each year by boards ... personally I would put no great reliance on the accuracy of these figures simply because the interpretation of ‘known’ and ‘suspected’ is likely to vary from board to board and possibly inside a board from year to year.”

Mr Kirkpatrick referred to a 1978 survey of ‘non-accidental injury registers’ and added: “The only previous N Ireland work I can recall was done by N Lukianowicz in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s at a time when we kidded ourselves that baby battering here was non-existent.

“Sorry I am not being helpful but you are considering an aspect where the incidence is far from clear ... despite all the changes in functions child abuse still comes under my list of duties.”