Human rights champion abused his daughter

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The Independent Online

Vincent McKenna, the self-styled human rights campaigner from Belfast courted by the world's media, has been found guilty of 31 counts of sex abuse against his daughter.

Vincent McKenna, the self-styled human rights campaigner from Belfast courted by the world's media, has been found guilty of 31 counts of sex abuse against his daughter.

McKenna, 37, was accused of attacks on his eldest child, Sorcha from when she was three. His daughter, now 18, waived anonymity so her father could be named, a move approved by the judge, at Monaghan in the Irish Republic.

Sorcha told the court she had suffered various forms of serious sexual assault between 1985 and 1993. After the verdict she said: "It was the best feeling in the world. I feel so much better that everyone knows what he has done and he won't be in a position to do it again."

At the time McKenna was living with his wife and four children in Monaghan. After a divorce he went to Belfast. McKenna had denied the charges but admitted using his hands to punish his daughter by "slapping" her.

He entered the world stage as a campaigner against paramilitary punishment beatings in Northern Ireland. His public attacks on the IRA, accusing it of breaching the Good Friday Agreement with the beatings, almost wrecked the peace process two years ago.

McKenna claimed to have been a former terrorist with the IRA's East Tyrone Brigade. The IRA denied McKenna had been a member. He had made an arson attack on a church in 1980 but the reason is still unclear. He was arrested in 1981 but absconded across the border when on bail. Recaptured in 1985, he was sentenced to nine months, the amount of time he had been on remand.

Last year McKenna, large, articulate and photogenic, had a standing ovation at a rally to save the Royal Ulster Constab-ulary from changes suggested by the Patten Commission. On stage beside him were the former head of the RUC Sir John Hermon and the Daily Telegraph editor, Charles Moore.

But some thought London-born McKenna, who moved to Ireland as a child, was a Walter Mitty, a profoundly disturbed individual seeking publicity, often at great personal risk.

His anti-terror organisation worked closely with the RUC, supplying figures on paramilitary activity to politicians and the media, particularly highlighting "knee-capping" and beatings in loyalist and republican areas. He was involved with the human rights group Families Against Intimidation (FAIT), which became riven by internal personality clashes. As spokesman, he alarmed it by aligning himself with politicians who were against the Good Friday Agreement.

Then, against the orders of the FAIT chairman Sam Cushanan, he named alleged Omagh bombers and wrongly claimed the Provisional IRA had supported the bombing. In May 1999 McKenna left FAIT to set up the Northern Ireland Human Rights organisation.

For years TV and newspaper reporters from around the world would queue to interview McKenna, who would brandish a nail-studded pickaxe handle he claimed had been used in beatings. He appeared on the CBS 60 Minutes programme in America.

When allegations of sexual abuse surfaced, McKenna claimed they were part of a republican smear campaign. When our sister paper, The Independent on Sunday, raised the child abuse allegations, McKenna's solicitors threatened to sue. He even claimed he had been arrested by the Garda in exchange for two of the IRA's heavy machine-guns.

Judge Matt Deery remanded McKenna in custody for sentencing next week.