Northern Ireland: Amnesty welcomes Official Secrets Act undertaking on Kincora child abuse inquiry

Amnesty International has welcomed an undertaking from the UK government that witnesses will be able to give evidence to the Historical Abuse Inquiry into alleged abuse at Belfast's Kincora Boys' Home without fear of prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. 

The assurance comes in a letter from the UK Attorney General to Sir Anthony Hart, chair of the Northern Ireland inquiry, which has been tasked to investigate claims of official collusion in child abuse at the east Belfast boys' Home in the 1970s.

The commitment to waive the Official Secrets Act for the purposes of investigating Kincora was first sought in a letter from Amnesty International to the UK Home Secretary, Theresa May, in August 2014.

Amnesty had demanded that the Government give specific assurances that the Official Secrets Act would be suspended to enable potential witnesses, such as former intelligence officers, to give evidence about alleged cover-up of abuse at the Home to the forthcoming child abuse inquiry.

Three senior care staff at the east Belfast children’s home were jailed in 1981 for abusing 11 boys, but it is feared that there were many more victims and abusers during the period 1960 to 1980.

Allegations have persisted that a paedophile ring at Kincora was linked to the British intelligence services. Two former military intelligence officers, Colin Wallace and Brian Gemmell, have alleged that the security services blocked investigation of the child abuse in the 1970s. The abuse continued until 1980.

Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty International's Northern Ireland Programme Director, said:

“Amnesty International welcomes this undertaking from the UK Attorney General that the Official Secrets Act will not be used to block evidence to the inquiry from former intelligence officers.

“The allegations surrounding Kincora could scarcely be more disturbing - that MI5 turned a blind eye to child abuse and actively blocked a police investigation, instead using the paedophile ring for its own intelligence-gathering purposes.

“These assurances from government should pave the way for the former officers - otherwise bound by the Official Secrets Act - to finally speak freely to an official inquiry.”

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