A victim of abuse at a notorious boys’ home in Northern Ireland will seek this week to challenge the conduct of Whitehall’s ill-fated investigation into child abuse.
A former resident at the Kincora Boys’ Home in Belfast, supported by other victims, is applying for judicial review into the decision to exclude the home from the London-based inquiry, now chaired by Justice Lowell Goddard from New Zealand. At stake is whether current and former members of MI5 can be forced to give evidence.
Widespread allegations of abuse of residents – including claims that abuse was covered up and allowed to continue unchecked for years because police and the British security services were using the home to blackmail people – are the subject of a separate inquiry in Northern Ireland, the Historical and Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry, led by Sir Anthony Hart.
Critics of the HIA claim it lacks sufficient powers to get to the heart of the scandal, and want Kincora to be investigated by the Goddard inquiry. On Tuesday at the High Court in Belfast, lawyers representing a Kincora victim, Gary Hoy, will challenge the decision by the Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, to leave the Kincora investigation under the control of the HIA. The lawyers want the decision judicially reviewed. The Government confirmed last week that it will oppose the application.
Campaigners say Kincora should be removed from the HIA and included in the Goddard inquiry because of the purported links with London of some of those who abused boys, and because, they say, the HIA will not be able to compel witnesses to attend nor insist on seeing sensitive civil service documents.
Kincora has long cast a shadow over both Northern Ireland and MI5. In 1981, three men were imprisoned for between four and six years for a number of offences relating to systematic sexual abuse of children over a period of years. Previously, a number of whistleblowers had attempted to call a halt to the abuse, but it continued unabated, giving rise to claims that staff were being protected by the security services. Last year, former MI5 officer Bryan Gemmell told The Independent on Sunday that he had expressed concern but was told by his boss in MI5 to keep his nose out of Kincora. He also said that he had been asked by the same person if he thought a known Protestant terrorist might be susceptible to being blackmailed over his homosexuality “because they had film of him”.
Former army press officer Colin Wallace also sought to raise the alarm, but went unheeded.
One Kincora victim, Clint Massey, told The IoS recently: “In those days [the 1970s], there were loads of people over from London. I have always assumed they were senior figures from Whitehall. I certainly heard English accents…. I strongly believe it was an entrapment operation [for the security services]. They hoped to get a handle on the people who visited, to get them to work for them and inform for them.”
Last week, Mr Massey gave evidence to the Police Ombudsman, who is investigating the failure of successive police inquiries to get to the truth. Yesterday he said: “The HIA inquiry needs to be able to summon the senior civil servants. When Whitehall says jump, they jump. But if it’s based here in Northern Ireland, it won’t have the authority.” This view was backed by the Parliamentary Home Affairs Committee on Friday.
HIA inquiry chairman Sir Anthony Hart has sought to reassure critics that his inquiry has sufficient powers. It has sought details of all Kincora-related files held by all UK government departments and agencies. It has secured extra funding and claims that witnesses who co-operate with the inquiry will be immune from prosecution, including offences under the Official Secrets Act.
However, victims’ solicitor Kevin Winters says: “This case has to be taken by the Goddard inquiry, because the applicants and many others believe there was a cover-up. It has never been properly investigated, and the sense of there having been a cover-up is compounded by a very real perception the Banbridge inquiry is not fit for purpose.
“The HIA is not a statutory inquiry and doesn’t have the necessary powers. It is true it can seek to be given those powers, but that would take primary legislation, and we can’t know how quickly that would happen or how effective.
“In the absence of a proper inquisitorial inquiry, this case must be taken on by the Goddard inquiry.