Kincora Boys' Home

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The Kincora Boys' Home was a children's home in Belfast, Northern Ireland that was the scene of a notorious child sex abuse scandal.


The scandal first came to public attention on 24 January 1980 after a news report in the Irish Independent[1] titled "Sex Racket at Children's Home". The newspaper stated that despite allegations of abuse first surfacing in 1977 and the Royal Ulster Constabulary at Strandtown and Donegall Pass stations, Belfast, giving the Director of Public Prosecutions a report detailing allegations of boys being sexually abused and prostituted, naming prominent Northern Ireland businessmen as involved, no prosecutions had taken place. On 3 April 1980 three members of staff at the home, William McGrath, Raymond Semple and Joseph Mains, were charged with a number of offences relating to the systematic sexual abuse of children in their care over a number of years; they were all convicted. Mains, who had been the warden, was sentenced to six years' imprisonment, Semple, an assistant warden, to five years, and McGrath was jailed in December 1981 for four years.[2]


Allegations were later made that the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) had been informed of the abuse at the home for years previously, but had not moved to prevent it. In his 1999 book The Dirty War, Martin Dillon claims that McGrath, who was also the leader of an obscure loyalist paramilitary group called Tara, may have been employed by MI5 since the 1960s and was being blackmailed into providing intelligence on other loyalist groups.[3]

Ian Paisley, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party and moderator of the Free Presbyterian Church which he founded in 1951, was accused of failing to report the fact of McGrath's abuse to the relevant authorities although he initially denied ever being advised by his informant, a church member, Valerie Shaw, that it was taking place. McGrath was himself married with children. Paisley later gave other versions acknowledging learning from Shaw about McGrath's homosexuality.[4][5]

During this time, it is alleged by current affairs magazine Private Eye, high-ranking members of the Whitehall Civil Service and senior officers of the British military were involved in the sexual abuse of boys in Kincora.[6][7]

Health Board response[edit]

In response to growing coverage in the media, the Eastern Health and Social Services Board decided to institute a policy of not employing "homosexuals" in any caring roles.[citation needed] Some innocent individuals in other homes were discovered and dismissed. Although the policy was finally overturned by the Northern Ireland Department of Health and Social Services, the damage was done and an inevitable chill factor set in.[8]


A "private inquiry" was set up in January 1982 by James Prior, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State,[2] under the Commissioner of Complaints, Stephen McGonagle, to deal with these allegations. However it collapsed after three of its members resigned because they felt that the RUC had failed to carry out an effective investigation.[2]

Debates on Kincora were held in the Northern Ireland Assembly on 22 March and 9 November 1983. In January 1984, another inquiry, under Judge William Hughes with Mr W.J. Patterson and Mr Harry Whalley, was set up by James Prior.[2][9]

Judge Hughes's Committee of Inquiry into Children's Homes and Hostels submitted its 355 page report on 31 December 1985. Amongst its 56 recommendations which related mostly to the operation of children's homes and child care regulation was one (46) that every criminal allegation made by a resident should be referred to the police. Another (4) was that the legal position regarding the exclusion of homosexuals from employment in residential child care should be established although (p. 294) the committee concluded that "the weight of opinion is against a policy of exclusion".

The news story in the Irish Times that there was a prostitution ring operating from the Kincora home was discredited (paras. 5.23–28). The ring allegation was stated to be unwarranted, being sourced inaccurately to a witness who was never resident in Kincora and who had been abused by his uncle. That witness said (p. 200) "I have no knowledge of any important or influential men involved in any sex with me or any other boys."

Hughes concluded presciently (p. 342) that, "The events giving rise to this Inquiry...can no longer be regarded as exceptional. They must perhaps be recognised as earlier symptoms of a general malaise permeating the United Kingdom."[10]

Joshua Cardwell, an east Belfast Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (UPNI) councillor and Stormont MP who formerly chaired the Belfast Corporation Welfare Committee responsible for children's' homes, died by suicide in 1982 after making a statement to the RUC in March over Kincora.[2]

Cardwell told the police of one conversation with the Belfast Town Clerk who had mentioned an imprecise allegation of homosexual conduct, but said that no complaints had ever come his way (p. 70). The Hughes report however concluded (p. 93), "There is no evidence that Councillor Cardwell took steps to prevent an investigation or suppress the matter. Nor is there any evidence that the Ministry of Home Affairs became aware of allegations or rumours of relating to homosexual misconduct at Kincora."[10]


The Belfast News Letter reported that files on Kincora were "conspicuously absent" from the routine January 2013 release of 1982 government papers by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) under the 30-year rule.[2]

In July 2014 former soldier Colin Wallace said that any new investigation into the abuse at the home should have access to information from intelligence agencies.[11] Wallace said that he received intelligence in 1973 that boys at the home were being abused, but some of his superior officers refused to pass on information.[11] He also said that the Terry and Hughes inquiries did not examine evidence relating to the intelligence services.[11]

In August 2014 a former intelligence officer, Brian Gemmell, said that he also had been ordered to stop investigating allegations of abuse at the home.[12] He said that he learned details of what happened in the home while gathering information on loyalists.[12] He was told he was running two agents who had close links to the home.[12] As well as telling him not to investigate, the senior officer told him to stop running an agent.[12] He had spoken out anonymously before, but dropped his anonymity because he wanted the allegations to be investigated again.[12]