A ruling that police did not act on complaints about sexual abuse at a boys’ home in east Belfast points to evidence of a “wholesale cover-up” and “sinister intelligence agenda”, a leading human rights solicitor has said.
Kevin Winters, of KRW law firm, who represents two survivors from the notorious Kincora home, said the findings from the North’s Police Ombudsman on Friday also pave the way for a damages settlement for victims.
Policing watchdog Marie Anderson found complaints by former residents of Kincora that the then Royal Ulster Constabulary failed to adequately respond to reports of abuse were “legitimate and justified”. Ms Anderson received seven separate complaints from survivors of the home about the police role in the scandal between 1973 and 1976.
The ombudsman also criticised “systemic failings” involving the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC), the Belfast welfare authority and the former eastern health and social services board (EHSSB) for blocking information from getting through to the police.
“When boys complained about the abuse they experienced there is evidence that their accounts were ignored or not taken seriously or were not adequately investigated by the Belfast welfare authority or the EHSSB,” said Ms Anderson.
“I have identified systemic failings and a convoluted complaints system which resulted in police not being aware of all instances of sexual abuse at Kincora Boys’ Home. However, I have also identified occasions when police officers did not act appropriately on the information that had been provided to them and intelligence they had received.”
‘Abdication of responsibility’
Mr Winters, one of whose clients was just 11 years old when he was abused at the home in the late 1970s, said the state and police adopted “the most appalling form of laissez-faire” in response to the boys’ pleas for help.
“That’s bad enough, but that abdication of responsibility points to evidence of a wholesale cover-up which extended way beyond mere police failing to investigate,” he told The Irish Times.
Kincora opened on Belfast’s Upper Newtownards Road, close to Stormont’s parliament buildings, in May 1958 and closed in October 1980 following the sex abuse scandal.
Sir Anthony Hart, chairman of a public inquiry into the abuse, dismissed allegations of security force or state collusion in the abuse and ruled that there was no credible evidence of complicity in exploitation of the abuse, or that prominent individuals within the establishment were involved.
Instead, failings by the health authorities and RUC were blamed after dozens of residents complained of being targeted.
The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) — which superseded the RUC — said all police officers identified in the ombudsman’s investigation “are now deceased or retired”.
Responding to the findings, PSNI Chief Supt Anthony McNally apologised to the Kincora victims for the failings of police.