The resignation on Monday of William Hague as British foreign secretary pushed a number of other stories – the resignation of Lady Butler-Sloss from the inquiry into historical child sex abuse among them – down the news agenda.
Hague intends to serve out the remaining nine months of this parliament as leader of the house and then to retire. He says that he is tired of foreign travel and wants to spend more time with his family. His decision came as a shock at Westminster. He had not been named among the "old lags" rumoured for weeks to be about to be put out to grass to make way for a frisky element assumed to be more attractive to trendier Tory voters, if any. We shall see. At 53, Hague is hardly an old lag anyway. The other senior minister to resign of his own accord was Kenneth Clarke, 74.
By piquant coincidence, Hague may be able to assist Butler-Sloss's successor in establishing an element of the truth about one of the most distressing of recent British child abuse scandals – the treatment of boys in "care homes" in north Wales in the 1970s. There is no suggestion that Hague was in any way involved or had knowledge of any kind of what was happening in the homes. But questions may arise about his judgment as secretary of state for Wales in accepting advice about publication of the report of an investigation into the allegations.
Clwyd County Council, which had commissioned the report, declined to publish the findings. When the decision was referred to his office, Hague took the same view.
The report was to remain hidden until November 2012, when Welsh MP Anne Clwyd revealed that she had been shown a copy years earlier: she told us that the findings included “rape, bestiality, violent assaults and torture.”
The man who had compiled the report, John Jillings, had been hampered by the fact that the chief constable of North Wales had refused even to meet him for a general discussion. The police refused to hand over any of more than 130 boxes of material which they had taken into custody from council offices. The council stopped Jillings placing an ad. in local papers asking victims to come forward.
The council’s explanation of the decision to keep the report secret was that publication might lead to libel suits burdensome to Clwyd rate-payers. Perhaps Hague too took this as sufficient reason to withhold the findings. It will be one of the tasks of the new inquiry to clarify such matters.
Butler-Sloss's resignation brought the Kincora scandal in the North back into focus, too. Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith welcomed Butler-Sloss's resignation not merely on the ground that she might be perceived as less than impartial because her brother, the late Sir Michael Havers, had been attorney general during some of the period to be covered by the inquiry but because Havers's record in relation to Kincora doesn't stand scrutiny.
In 1973, a senior British army intelligence officer, Colin Wallace, told journalists that boys were being severely abused at Kincora and that the abusers included “house-master”, Loyalist paramilitary leader, British intelligence agent and saved Christian William McGrath.
There was no response. Wallace resigned. It has since been established, mainly by journalist Chris Moore, that not only were his claims true, they weren’t the half of it. In February last year, the NI Public Record Office released files, including a note of a meeting about Kincora in February 1982 attended by Havers, NI secretary of state James Prior, lord chancellor Quintin Hogg – head of the judiciary in England and Wales – and a senior civil servant, Sir William Bourne.
McGrath and two others had been jailed the previous year for offences against boys in Kincora. Hardly anybody in the North believed that there was no more to it. Havers told the others at the meeting that there might be a link between Kincora and the murder in 1973 of 10-year-old Brian McDermott, whose mutilated body had been found in a sack dumped in the river Lagan.
Prior later appointed an old friend of Havers, Judge William Hughes, to look into the matter. Havers personally briefed Hughes and wrote his terms of reference. These excluded individuals not officially connected to Kincora and events outside the Kincora premises. Thus, victims' claims of being taken elsewhere for abuse, allegedly sometimes by prominent individuals, were declared off limits.
The Kincora victims still clamour for justice. Even this cryptic account suggests questionable judgment, involvement in or approval or cover-up of serious and sickening crimes by elements of the British political, police, military, security and judicial establishments to an extent and at a level which has not been known in the Republic.