Ancestry UK

Kincora Working Hostel for Boys, Belfast, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland

The Kincora Hostel for Working Boys at 236 Upper Newtownards Road, Belfast, was opened in 1958 by the Eastern Board of Northern Ireland. It accommodated boys of working age who had difficult home circumstances.

On 24 January 1980, the Irish Independent newspaper reported that allegations of sexual abuse at the home had been made over a period of several years but no action had been taken. The home was closed shortly afterwards and the Royal Ulster Constabulary began an investigation. In December 1981, three staff at the home (William McGrath, the 'house father'; Raymond Semple, an assistant warden; and Joseph Mains, warden) were convicted of the systematic sexual abuse of inmates and given prison sentences ranging from four to six years.

Kincora has since been surrounded by claims of a cover-up by the Royal Ulster Constabulary linked to the alleged involvement of high-ranking civil servants and military officers in the abuse that took place. It was also claimed that one of the staff convicted, William McGrath, was an MI5 informer.

Kincora was one of the institutions examined by Northern Ireland's Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIAI) which took place from 2013 to 2016. The Inquiry found that although there were positive aspects to the way the establishment operated, such as the efforts made by Mains to find employment for the boys, there were several systemic failings in the way it operated. It was never adequately staffed, and this meant that for significant periods only one member of the care staff was on duty in the building. Although some residents were under school leaving age, most had left school and so were usually in work. If a boy was unemployed, or absent from work due to illness or for some other reason, this often meant that he would be on his own in the hostel during the day. Because most of the residents were boys of working age they were able to come and go with much greater freedom than would have been the case if they were younger residents in a children's home. It was not uncommon for a resident to be on his own in the house at some point during the day or at night before everyone retired to bed. The insufficient levels of staff provided Mains, Semple and McGrath with opportunities which they exploited to target their victims when no one else was about to see what was happening, or to suspect what was happening. The way the adolescent boys in Kincora were looked after meant that far too much was done for them by the domestic staff. This created an attitude of dependence by the boys on the staff, and this dependency was exacerbated by inadequate preparation of the residents for independent living when they left Kincora.

The Inquiry also found that the Ministry of Home Affairs, and then the DHSS, had failed to maintain an adequate inspection regime of the hostel. Following exhaustive examination of the relevant classified files, however, the Inquiry found no evidence to support the claims of links between McGrath and MI5.


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