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The Kincora scandal: child abuse and cover-up in 1970s Belfast

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Socialist Worker looks back at child abuse at Kincora Boys’ Home. The cover-up went to the heart of the establishment, as do scandals today
Issue 2329

The Kincora Boys’ Home in Belfast was opened in 1958. The home’s warden Joe Mains at once started to abuse the boys in his care. Mains recruited Raymond Semple and William McGrath in the 1970s and they joined in the daily brutal abuse.

The assaulted boys tried to bring the abuse to the attention of the authorities, including the police and the press, who failed them utterly.

People in authority knew what was going on because military intelligence officer Colin Wallace blew the whistle.

Wallace told his superiors what was happening and even put out a press release in early 1973. It stated that William McGrath was using “a non-existent evangelical mission as a front” for paedophilia. He supplied the address and phone number.

No newspaper followed this obvious lead, despite the press usually running Wallace’s propaganda briefings unedited.

The authorities did nothing about it. And sometimes they were the abusers. One was the late John Young, town solicitor at Belfast, to whom the boys’ complaints were passed. Others were councillors. Yet others were higher up politicians.

The abuse went on at Kincora for 20 years until finally exposed in a Dublin newspaper. Mains, Semple and McGrath went to jail—but the scale of the abuse remained hidden despite numerous inquiries.


The full story was covered up because McGrath was an important agent of British intelligence. He made frequent visits to his controllers in London.

McGrath was a founder member of a fanatical Loyalist paramilitary organisation and travelled to South Africa and Rhodesia to buy arms for paramilitaries.

The British state was arming Loyalist thugs to help crush the resistance to British rule in Northern Ireland. When McGrath was convicted of repeated child abuse he boasted, “Never have I committed an act unbecoming to an Orangeman.”

Boys from Kincora were also rented out to establishment figures. Who these figures were is still a matter of speculation. Socialist Worker’s Paul Foot wrote in 1996 about the speculation around Kincora: “Such allegations will always be made when widespread abuse is kept secret.

“Names of people in high places are bandied about as likely exploiters of boys provided for them from homes. In every major particular, the recent revelations from North Wales, Cheshire and Liverpool share the features of the Kincora case.

“There has been the same systematic abuse, the same consistent refusal of the authorities to believe the young people when they complained, the same ‘ring’ of abusers in different homes, constantly shifting from one home to another, the same apparent involvement of people high up in authority on the relevant councils and government bodies, the same tight-lipped police”.

Rumours started by Cold War spies

In the 1970s British intelligence services conducted the most extraordinary campaign of dirty tricks to smear Harold Wilson’s Labour government.

Wilson’s 1974 government was far from left wing. But the security services were panicking over the scale of workers’ revolt which swept Britain in the early 1970s. Wilson had met with IRA leaders in Dublin. That, plus rising class struggle in Britain, terrified the right.

Operation Clockwork Orange was an attempt to smear and undermine Labour leaders—and those Tories who weren’t considered tough enough. The short term aim was to stop Labour being elected and to depose Edward Heath from the Tory leadership.

Incredibly, the security services didn’t just believe that Harold Wilson and many Labour ministers were Russian agents. They were convinced Tory leader Heath was one too.

Wallace’s “black propaganda” team was part of creating the cover up of Bloody Sunday, when British troops murdered 14 civilians.

Clockwork Orange was the origin of the claim that Heath was a paedophile. Sometimes the work was serious. At others it was slightly ridiculous. Wallace’s team wrote a fake Labour Party pamphlet for American journalists which called for revolution.

Wallace was sacked in 1975 after he refused to continue working on Clockwork Orange. He had balked at the idea of overthrowing the government he was supposed to be working for. He was frustrated that his attempts to expose the Kincora Boys’ Home scandal were failing.

Wallace’s allegations were confirmed by former MI5 officer Peter Wright in his book Spycatcher. Wright described how a gang of ultra-right fanatics in MI5 had plotted against Wilson’s government in 1974 and 1975.

MI5 even carried out burglaries of the homes of Downing Street staff—and bugged 10 Downing Street itself.

Inquiries deny victims a voice

The first inquiry into Kincora, the McGonagle Committee in 1982, was promised no limits would be put on its investigation. Then it was told it couldn’t examine anything police were looking into or that was covered by criminal charges. The inquiry collapsed after a day.

Another investigation heard Judge Hughes say it was purely about “the administration of boys’ homes”—and so wouldn’t look into the cover-up. It didn’t interview anyone convicted of Kincora related crimes or anyone who had raised complaints.

Brothels used for blackmail

Intelligence services around the world find it useful to maintain brothels. These can be multi-purpose centres of reward, blackmail and assignation. Intelligence services repeatedly used Kincora, an unlimited source of boys who could be abused, in this way.

Framed for manslaughter

Colin Wallace was sacked from British intelligence for leaking documents to journalists—even though that was his job. When he sent files to Downing Street to prove his case, they went missing. He was then framed for the manslaughter of a friend.

After the book Who Framed Colin Wallace? by Socialist Worker’s Paul Foot brought the case to the light his conviction was eventually quashed.


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