Kincora: Ministers thought 1986 report was end of scandal

A 1986 report by Judge Hughes ruled out an official cover-up over the events at Kincora Boys' Home
A 1986 report by Judge Hughes ruled out an official cover-up over the events at Kincora Boys' Home

Declassified files show that 1n 1986 the Government believed that the report by Judge Hughes into the Kincora scandal would be the end of the matter – yet almost three decades later the child sex abuse case is still highly sensitive and the Assembly has asked for it to be reinvestigated.

Files released at the Public Record Office in Belfast under the new 20-year rule contain little that is not already known about the situation, but show the relief within government when they realised that Judge Hughes had ruled out claims of an official cover-up to protect William McGrath, a figure who had links to the intelligence agencies.

A January 1986 memo from NIO junior minister Richard Needham to the Secretary of State appraising him of the contents of the Hughes report – which was focused on the role of social services and had no remit to investigate military intelligence – said: “The report will not please those people in the media and elsewhere who were looking for scandalous disclosures or confirmation of rumours, or who want to see heads rolling.

“Nevertheless, the time has come to draw a line under the Kincora affair, which has now been investigated by four different agencies (including the Courts).”

Mr Needham made a series of recommendations, among which was that the Secretary of State “refuse any demands for future investigation of the Kincora affair”. A subsequent memo indicated that the Secretary of State agreed on this point.

A confidential January 1986 memo from N R Cowling, seemingly a Department of Health official, to a Mr Chesterton, seemingly in the NIO in London, briefed the Government on what was in the report, which had then been received by the department.

He set out the long chronology of how allegations about sexual abuse at Kincora had been made to the authorities over many years.

The memo says that two Kincora residents had made complaints against Joe Mains, one of three warders at the home, in 1967. It said that the allegations had been “methodically” investigated internally, but the police were not called in.

Further complaints were made by another resident in 1971 but after consultation with the Belfast Town Solicitor, the late John Young, it was decided that “there was insufficient evidence”. Young was later alleged to have been involved in the abuse at Kincora.

The Hughes Inquiry said that had been a “fundamental error of judgement” but not a cover-up.

Social work staff at the Eastern Health and Social Services Board were made aware of anonymous allegations against Kincora housemaster William McGrath in 1972-1973 and a new complaint by a resident in May 1974.

Between 1974 and 1977, the memo says, Detective Constable Jim Cullen was investigating reports from an informer that “McGrath was using his political and religious contacts with young men for homosexual activities” and paramilitary involvement was also alleged but McGrath’s duties at Kincora “were not apparently raised as an issue”.

The detective reported directly to Assistant Chief Constable Bill Meharg. In January 1976, the detective was informed that McGrath was working at Kincora and he went to the Eastern Health Board, where he was shown a file with previous allegations about Kincora.

ACC Meharg asked for and received a report about the situation, which Detective Constable Cullen sent to him in 1976. However, Meharg said that he did not receive it and did not see the papers until after the press revealed what was going on at Kincora in 1980.

Separately, in 1976 a Miss Shaw heard rumours “about McGrath’s activities” and attempted to have them brought to the attention of the Eastern Board and informed the Rev Martin Smyth in 1976, who phoned someone on the board.

In 1977, another RUC detective, Constable Scully, formed suspicions about Mains and communicated them to a social worker, which led to several meetings with police.

The scandal only came to light in 1979, when a Mrs Kennedy and Mrs Gogarty, social workers on the Falls Road, encountered a former Kincora resident who refused to return to the home.

After they believed that their suspicions were not being taken seriously by the authorities, they decided to speak to the press, culminating in the famous Irish Independent story of January 1980, which exposed the sordid crimes.

More from the declassified files

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Water charges necessary but ‘politically unacceptable’, say files

Top civil servant proposed all-Ireland anti-terror police force

Troops were on standby for two contentious 1986 Orange parades

Paisley condemned attacks on RUC after Robinson would not

NIO feared that Paisley might push for an independent NI

Fears over reintroducing juries for terrorism trials

DUP Assemblyman briefed against ‘cold and calculating’ Robinson

Allister ‘unmoved’ at prospect of 1986 Assembly collapse

Ex-UUP leader Harry West feared party could split

Dublin lobbied for Irish language ‘out of hatred for SF’

Peter Robinson urged US firms not to invest in Northern Ireland, says declassified file

DUP MP William McCrea wanted ‘Libya-type airstrikes’ against Dundalk and Drogheda

The attitudes and nature of the DUP are frightening, said head of the Civil Service

RUC tipped off the Garda about Robinson’s ‘invasion’ of Clontibret

In 1986, Paisley believed he’d never be in another Stormont

Stormont Speaker reacted with fury when officials queried his questionable hospitality claims

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