Kincora into Westminster

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) has now concluded, so this campaign is not relevant any more. I have removed the petition, but left the text for reference. Kincora was not brought within the remit of the IICSA unfortunately.

In 1980 the three members of staff at Kincora Boys’ Home in Belfast were convicted of the systematic sexual abuse of young boys who had stayed there.

A number of inquiries have been conducted in order to get to the bottom of what went wrong at Kincora, but the scandal has still not been adequately dealt with. There are allegations that MI5 knew of the abuse and covered it up.

The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in Northern Ireland looked into these allegations and the whole situation surrounding Kincora. The problem is, this inquiry didn't have the power to compel witnesses to give evidence, which is necessary to get to the bottom of the allegations of an Intelligence cover-up. However, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) set up by the UK government does have this power.

This campaign is calling on the IICSA to include the Kincora scandal in their investigations.

What we’re trying to avoid is something where every 5 or 10 years it’s generally agreed that the approach hasn’t been the right one.

Keir Starmer
Director of Public Prosecutions

Kincora Boys’ Home: The Story


Site of Kincora Boys' Home. Property now empty.

Kincora Boys’ Home was set up in 1958 by the local health authority in East Belfast. Its purpose was to provide accommodation for boys aged 15-18 whose current living situations were abusive or untenable.

In 1980 a story broke in the Irish Independent of a ‘sex racket’ being carried on at a Belfast children’s home – Kincora Boys’ Home (although it was not named in the article).[1] The tip-off came from a trainee social worker, Helen Gogarty, who was concerned about inaction regarding concerns of mistreatment of residents at the home.[2] Boys at the home were of of ages 10-17, with abuses said to have been committed against those as young as 12.[3]

After the case was covered in the press the three members of staff at the home were convicted on April 3rd 1980 of 23 offences against 11 boys.[4] The staff members were William McGrath, housemaster; Raymond Semple, deputy warden; Joseph Mains, warden.

After the trial the existence of a years long cover-up of abuse at the home began looking increasingly likely as allegations made by several credible witnesses became widely known.

Valerie Shaw was a missionary of the Free Presbyterian Church.[5] The Free Presbyterian Church was founded by Ian Paisley (now deceased) who had been at various times leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, MP for North Antrim and First Minister of Northern Ireland, among other positions.[6] William McGrath was a political affiliate of Paisley, both of them being high-profile loyalists. Paisley officiated at the weddings of two of McGrath’s children and lived just a few hundred yards away from both McGrath and Kincora Boys’ Home.[7] Despite these ties Paisley maintained that he was not aware that McGrath worked at the home.[8]

Shaw claims to have informed Paisley in 1973 that McGrath was a homosexual and that as a result concerns had been raised by a lay-preacher about him working at Kincora Boys’ Home. Paisley claimed that it was in 1974 that Shaw brought up her concerns and that she did not mention that McGrath worked at the home. He claimed that he did not know ‘anything about Kincora or McGrath until it broke’ in 1980.[9] Shaw maintains that she spoke of Kincora and McGrath together, since her main concern was McGrath’s position in charge of vulnerable children.[10]

Shaw also claims that in 1973 and 1974 she informed a number of other influential people, including politicians, about her concerns regarding McGrath. One such case was that in 1974 she had a meeting with a senior officer in the Belfast police in which she informed him of her concerns. He promised to put a watch on McGrath’s home and Kincora. Years later Shaw saw the officer, then retired, and he expressed regret that her information had not been acted on.[11]

Brian Gemmell, an army intelligence officer, was gathering information on the loyalists in the 70s. In the process he discovered the abuse going on at Kincora Boys’ Home. In 1975, after submitting a report on the matter to superiors, he was summoned to the office of an MI5 officer who ‘was rude and offensive and hostile’ and told him to ‘stop any investigation into Kincora.’[12]

Colin Wallace was working as an Information Officer for the British Army and Intelligence services in Northern Ireland in the early 70s. He claims to have discovered in 1972 that there was sexual abuse of young boys taking place at Kincora Boys’ Home, and that when he went to superiors in Army Intelligence he was told it was being dealt with.[13]

In 1973 Army Intelligence provided Wallace with information on McGrath and his paramilitary organisation, Tara. Wallace was requested to provide a press briefing based on this information, which included the fact that McGrath was a homosexual who blackmailed recruits of Tara whom he had engaged in sexual activities with, threatening to out their sexual preferences. He did this to secure their continued allegiance to his cause. It was also mentioned that he ran a children’s home. Wallace did as instructed, but not a single newspaper throughout the UK ran with the story.[14]

In 1974 he circulated a detailed memo[15] designed to bring the Kincora abuse issue to a head. Part of its concluding statement read:

I am far from happy with the quality of the information available on this matter, and I am even more unhappy because of the, as yet unexplained, failure of the RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] or the NIO [Northern Ireland Office] to take on the task.

I find it very difficult to accept that the RUC consistently failed to take action on such serious allegations unless they had specifically received some form of policy direction.

He goes on to recommend a final attempt to get the RUC to investigate, and a careful press release of the information with authority from London.

There have been various attempts to brand this memo as a forgery. According to journalist Paul Foot, who published a book about Wallace, there is no good reason to suspect this. The Irish Times, which first published the memo, had checks done that indicated the document was genuine, although certain checks were inconclusive as it was a photocopy.[16]

Richard Kerr is a former resident who was abused at Kincora Boys’ Home. He claims that in 1977 he was also trafficked to Elm Guest House and the Dolphin Square apartment complex - both in London - and was abused by powerful men. He maintains that a VIP child abuse ring existed, some of the members of which he believes were politicians. He is afraid of naming names, however, as he feels the UK government is not fully supportive of victims of child sexual abuse and is in fact covering up the abuse.

I need to know that I can have faith in our government but right now, when they're not willing to bring Kincora into Westminster, the message that sends to me is that there's some kind of cover-up and there has been.[23]

He is referring to the UK government’s refusal to bring the case of Kincora Boys’ Home within the remit of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) currently underway.

The last person I will mention in relation to the allegations of a cover-up is Roy Garland. He was an associate of McGrath, rising to the position of second-in-command of McGrath’s paramilitary organisation, Tara (McGrath was the leader). Garland discovered McGrath’s abuse of children and in 1971 cut all ties with him and Tara. He then spent a considerable effort trying to get an investigation into the matter.[24] It was Garland who provided the information to Brian Gemmell, who was subsequently told by a superior at MI5 to drop the case.[25]

As a result of the circulating concerns of deeper problems after the conviction of the three abusers there have been a number of inquiries involving Kincora Boys’ Home. After the initial police investigation by the RUC, which resulted in the conviction of the three staff at the home, then Secretary of State James Prior set up an inquiry headed by Stephen McGonagle, former chairman of the Northern Ireland Police Complaints Board. After only one meeting the Inquiry fell apart, with three members of the committee resigning. Their reason was ‘the continuing persistent and escalating suggestion that major criminal aspects of the case are still outstanding.’ McGonagle was also unhappy with the Inquiry’s remit as it was restricted to only looking at the administration of state-run homes and hostels.[26] The allegations of a British Intelligence cover-up weren’t to be considered.

The next inquiry was headed up by Sir George Terry, Chief Constable of Sussex Police. Its remit was to investigate the way in which police had handled their inquiries up until that point (including looking into a possible cover-up), and to oversee their continuing investigation.[27] In 2013 the Terry Report was released after a Freedom of Information request was submitted. Two related reports, which are recommended to be read with it,[17] have not been released. At the time of its completion in 1983 only its conclusions were made public.

The Terry Report exonerated the police of any serious oversights. It explained in part the failure of the police to address the situation at Kincora Boys’ Home by citing other crimes that were occurring in Northern Ireland at the time, which it says put a great pressure on the officers.[28] It also mentioned the psychology of the victims as part of the reason why the abuse was not detected, stating that their ‘intelligence was either low or had not been developed properly’ and that they ‘were probably for the first time in their lives receiving attention which they badly wanted to retain [...]’[29] It concluded by asserting that there had been no cover-up by the police and accusing social service workers of ‘a high degree of naivety, incompetence, and in some instances an avoidance of responsibility [...]’ It also ruled out the alleged existence of a homosexual prostitution ring, or any awareness in military circles of what was going on at the home.[30]

Although it appears from reading the Terry Report that no significant attempt was made to probe the allegations that MI5 had covered up the abuse, there were efforts to address this question. RUC detectives attempted to organise an interview with the MI5 official who had told Brian Gemmell to stop any investigation into Kincora Boys’ Home. They first went to Stormont from where they were directed to Whitehall. No interview was ever forthcoming and written questions submitted by the detectives were ignored.[31]

Colin Wallace was contacted several times throughout the Inquiry in an attempt to convince him to give his testimony of events. At the time Wallace was in prison after being convicted of manslaughter – a conviction which was later overturned. He felt in a vulnerable situation, believing he had been framed, and so was apprehensive about giving evidence that could potentially put him in breach of the Official Secrets Act and further open him to prosecution. He repeatedly requested assurance from various authorities that he would be given immunity from this possibility, and his attorney was consistently unhappy with the responses he was given. Over the course of these requests he was led to believe that the report was not looking into the possibility of a cover-up. The requests would always indicate that the homosexual behaviour of the staff was the focus.[32]

The conclusion of the Terry Report that there was no cover-up by Intelligence services was facilitated by key witnesses - Wallace and the MI5 official who ordered Gemmell to drop the case - not being involved.

A report was published in 1982 by three officials who looked into how the Department for Health and Social Services for Northern Ireland (DHSS (NI)) was carrying out its role in terms of managing and supervising care homes and hostels for children. This report formed the starting point for subsequent action taken by the DHSS (NI).[37]

The Hughes report got underway in 1984. The reason for the commissioning of the Hughes report was significant political interest from MPs in both Stormont and Westminster.[38] It was tasked with investigating care homes whose residents had been subjected to homosexual attacks, and recommending improvements to their administration and procedural policy to prevent such occurrences in the future.[39] It was published in 1986.

In 2013 the HIA was launched in Northern Ireland.[40] It was chaired by Anthony Hart. Kincora was one area of investigation amongst many in this inquiry. Its final report was published on January 20th 2017.[41] It looked into the allegations of a cover-up perpetrated by Intelligence services. It concluded that there was no credible evidence of complicity on the part of the Intelligence services.[18]

However, four key witnesses refused to take part, or cut short their participation, in the Inquiry. They were Colin Wallace, Brian Gemmell, Richard Kerr and Roy Garland.

Wallace’s lawyer sent a letter to the Inquiry’s lawyer laying out the conditions which would need to be met for Wallace to participate in the Inquiry:

Mr Wallace is concerned that he will not be able to give effective evidence unless:

1.There is, before the Inquiry, documentation relating to the abuse at Kincora and the subsequent cover up of the abuse by the intelligence services, and

2. Evidence is given to the Inquiry by intelligence officers and military personnel.

To assist Mr. Wallace to determine whether he wishes to engage with the Inquiry in any capacity I would be grateful if you would provide the following:

1. A schedule of the documents referred to in your letter dated 19 April 2016.

2. A schedule of documents relating to Kincora that have been requested from third parties including the intelligence services which have not been received.

3. A schedule of witnesses requested to give evidence in respect of Kincora.

4. A schedule of witnesses who have declined to give evidence in respect of Kincora.

The response from the Inquiry's lawyer denied these requests, saying that Wallace would receive only the material the Inquiry deemed relevant for him to receive, and at a time decided by the Inquiry. At this Wallace declined to take part.[42]

Brian Gemmell gave his reason for not participating thusly:

At 65 years of age, and in poor health, I am not prepared to disrupt my life for an Inquiry which has considerably less powers than those held by the Goddard Inquiry [IICSA] and I totally lack confidence that the real truth will ever be uncovered. The Kincora affair should have been included within the remit of the Goddard Inquiry given the already known links to Westminster.

Neither the Terry or Hughes Inquiries called me before them and it is now too late for my involvement to make a serious difference.[43]

Garland was unhappy with the fact that the Inquiry had less power than the IICSA initiated by Westminster,[44] and was also not happy with a list of questions put to him by the Inquiry’s lawyer.

Consideration of various factors has not encouraged my faith in or my wish to participate in this inquiry.

Additionally, I note that in relation to your letter of 19th April 2016, some of these questions are based on false assumptions and are at times factually inaccurate and misleading.[45]

Kerr withdrew from giving evidence after he was sent only 740 documents about the case, while the intelligence services were given 16,000 documents. His legal representative said:

He has not been provided with any documents obtained from or submitted by the British security forces and security services. It is not clear why the Inquiry wish to conceal these documents from Mr Kerr or his legal representatives.

In the context of an Inquiry that is investigating allegations that the British security forces and security services knew that abuse was and would be perpetrated on the children in Kincora and covered this up this is inherently unreasonable.

The Inquiry said it was not correct to say that it wished to conceal documents from Mr Kerr and that it ‘does not accept its procedures are unfair.’[46]

With these four witnesses missing the Inquiry pushed ahead.

Wallace and his allegations were discussed in great detail during the hearings.[47] [48] Suggestions were made about his actions, which could have influenced the direction of the Inquiry. For example, in relation to Wallace’s insistence on wanting immunity if he was to give evidence in the Terry Report, Mr Aiken, counsel to the HIA Inquiry, said:

...these issues are identified as impediments that need to be resolved so he can properly participate, but you will have to decide whether in fact, that was a smokescreen for not being prepared to cooperate…[49]

A few minutes later Aiken cites a letter from the Public Prosecution Service to Wallace granting him immunity.[50] The insinuation here is that Wallace was granted immunity, so his refusal to give evidence in the Terry Report was for other reasons. Since the substance of this letter is not available to the public, I can’t speak to the veracity of Aiken’s position on this. But Wallace wrote a detailed list of questions to the General at Lisburn Barracks in Belfast which he wanted a 'yes' response to before he would take part in the Terry Report.[51] This letter resulted in a response from then PM Margaret Thatcher, who ignored the majority of the questions, although granting some immunity. Wallace’s solicitor said that her assurance of immunity was not sufficient.[52] It would be reasonable to assume that his solicitor also read the letter cited by Aiken and made the same conclusion.

Wallaces’s unwillingness to participate in the HIA is mentioned on day 221 of the hearings, with the comment from Aiken that: unfortunately predictable fashion, he was not prepared to participate...[53]

He goes on to say:

It will not be lost on you, members of the panel, and I trust upon those who reflect on and report on our proceedings that those who seem to talk most to the media about wanting an inquiry into Kincora appear to be the last people who want to face any questions about the story they so willingly want to tell to journalists.[54]

Since Wallace and the other absent witnesses were not represented at these hearings and so had no opportunity to prevent their misrepresentation, it is impossible to say that these hearings were carried out with the maximum of integrity.

It is time for a proper and full inquiry into Kincora, in which the requests of key witnesses are met, and in which the inquiry has the power afforded under the Inquiries Act 2005 to compel witnesses to give evidence. In 2015 Theresa May, as Home Secretary, ignored widespread calls to include Kincora in the IICSA, which has these powers.[57] Gary Hoy, a former resident of Kincora Boys’ Home who was abused there, supposedly launched an unsuccessful appeal in 2016 to get Kincora included in the IICSA.[55] It was claimed by the solicitor to the HIA that Hoy’s appeal was actually regarding his own legal representation, and that the press had misreported it.[56]

Whatever the case may be, a full and sufficiently powerful inquiry is needed to get to the bottom of the abuse that carried on at Kincora for 20 years. In line with this, the HIA was inadequate and Kincora needs to be incorporated into the IICSA, with the chairmanship of the IICSA ensuring all key witnesses are provided with the materials and any written assurances they may request so the inquiry is not boycotted by those central to its success.





[5] Moore, C. (1996). The Kincora scandal. 1st ed. Dublin: Marino Press. (p. 5)


[7] Moore, C. (1996). The Kincora scandal. 1st ed. Dublin: Marino Press. (p. 193)

[8] Moore, C. (1996). The Kincora scandal. 1st ed. Dublin: Marino Press. (p. 194)

[9] Moore, C. (1996). The Kincora scandal. 1st ed. Dublin: Marino Press. (pp. 194-195)

[10] Foot, P. (1989). Who framed Colin Wallace?. London: Macmillan. (p. 133)

[11] Foot, P. (1989). Who framed Colin Wallace?. London: Macmillan. (p. 132)


[13] Foot, P. (1989). Who framed Colin Wallace?. London: Macmillan. (p. 134)

[14] Foot, P. (1989). Who framed Colin Wallace?. London: Macmillan. (pp. 135-137)

[15] Foot, P. (1989). Who framed Colin Wallace?. London: Macmillan. (pp. 139-144)

[16] Foot, P. (1989). Who framed Colin Wallace?. London: Macmillan. (p. 144)

[17] Terry, G. Sussex Police. The Kincora Boys Home, Belfast and Kindred Matters. Belfast, 1983. (p.1)

[18] (p. 15)


[24] Moore, C. (1996). The Kincora scandal. 1st ed. Dublin: Marino Press. (p. 138)

[25] Moore, C. (1996). The Kincora scandal. 1st ed. Dublin: Marino Press. (pp. 140-41) [note: Brian Gemmell was using the pseudonym 'James' in this reference.]

[26] Moore, C. (1996). The Kincora scandal. 1st ed. Dublin: Marino Press. (p.221)

[27] Terry, G. Sussex Police. The Kincora Boys Home, Belfast and Kindred Matters. Belfast, 1983. (p. 3)

[28] Terry, G. Sussex Police. The Kincora Boys Home, Belfast and Kindred Matters. Belfast, 1983. (p. 7)

[29] Terry, G. Sussex Police. The Kincora Boys Home, Belfast and Kindred Matters. Belfast, 1983. (p. 12)

[30] Terry, G. Sussex Police. The Kincora Boys Home, Belfast and Kindred Matters. Belfast, 1983. (My Conclusions: paragraphs f,j,k)

[31] Moore, C. (1996). The Kincora scandal. 1st ed. Dublin: Marino Press. (pp.224-225)

[32] Foot, P. (1989). Who framed Colin Wallace?. London: Macmillan. (pp. 305-312)

[37] Hughes, W.H. Report of the committee of inquiry into children’s homes and hostels. 1986. (p. 3)

[38] Ibid.

[39] Hughes, W.H. Report of the committee of inquiry into children’s homes and hostels. 1986. (pp. 350-351)










[49] (p. 14)

[50] (p. 38)

[51] Foot, P. (1989). Who framed Colin Wallace?. London: Macmillan. (p. 310)

[52] Foot, P. (1989). Who framed Colin Wallace?. London: Macmillan. (p. 311)

[53] (p. 9)

[54] (p. 10)