Northern Ireland Inquiry Undermines Claims of “Westminster VIP Paedophile Ring” Witness

From The Sunday Times:

Richard Kerr, originally from Belfast, was one of the most high-profile “witnesses” to claim that a Westminster VIP paedophile ring operated in the 1970s and 1980s, but he made claims that could not be true, according to an investigation of institutional abuse in Northern Ireland.

Kerr’s lurid account of being trafficked from Kincora Boys’ Home in Belfast to VIP sex parties at Dolphin Square — a Westminster apartment block popular with MPs — and to a homosexual brothel, the Elm Guest House, was given wide coverage by Channel 4, various newspapers and the defunct Exaro news website…

The article goes on to quote the Inquiry into Historical Institutional Abuse in Northern Ireland, which recently published its Report (hereafter “the Report”). Chapters 25 to 29 are concerned with Kincora, and Kerr’s claims and history are discussed in paragraphs 151 to 232 in Chapter 26. According to the details there (230),

There is no evidence to support his claim that he was “trafficked to London” aged seventeen. The irrefutable evidence examined by us is that from 4 October 1977 until February 1979, except for the few days between 21 October and 7 November when he was on bail before being remanded back into custody when he stole from [Raymond] Semple, he was in secure custody in Rathgael Training School, and then in Millisle Borstal. He left Northern Ireland in mid-May 1979 when he reached the age of eighteen and was automatically discharged from care. He then made the decision to go and live with his aunt in Preston.

The section of the report concludes (231-232):

Richard Kerr’s recent accounts of his experiences in Williamson House and Kincora are very substantially different from the detailed accounts he gave in the past. When these recent accounts are compared with the accounts he gave in the 1970s and 1980s, and with other documents from that era, a very different picture emerges from that which he now portrays. Having carefully examined all the material available to us we are satisfied that his more recent accounts are not to be relied upon.

We are satisfied that Mr Kerr was sexually exploited and abused as a boy and young man and are in no doubt that this had an adverse impact on his life. However, we cannot set aside or ignore the inconsistencies in his accounts of the abuse he said he suffered.

It seems that Kerr named certain individuals as having abused him only after their names had become public in relation to other cases – such as Dr Morris Fraser of the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children and Cyril Smith (who allegedly abused him in Manchester). It should be noted that the Inquiry was concerned with his claims only insofar as they have a Northern Ireland connection: “If his allegations about his experiences in London or other parts of England are to be investigated that will be a matter for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse” (229).

The report was compiled without any active input from Kerr  himself – arrangements had been made for Kerr to give evidence, but at the last moment Kerr declined to participate, on the grounds that relevant documents were not being disclosed to his legal team. The Report disputes this (152):

…His legal representatives had been provided with over 700 pages of documents relating to Mr Kerr. They had accepted to the Inquiry that what the state agencies knew about the abuse perpetrated at Kincora, and the individuals perpetrating that abuse, or when they knew about it, were matters that are not within Mr Kerr’s knowledge. The Inquiry had no reason to believe that Mr Kerr was able to speak of his own knowledge on the issues of state participation, and he and his legal representatives had been provided with all of the documents available to the Inquiry at that time that the Inquiry considered directly bore upon Mr Kerr or on matters that the Inquiry considered that Mr Kerr was in a position to speak about from his own knowledge.

Kerr’s media appearances were in the first half of 2015, at a time when the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Midland was in full swing: an accuser named Nick had told police that he had been trafficked into a “VIP Westminster” paedophile ring as a child by his stepfather, where he had been subjected to sex abuse and torture, and had even witnessed child murders. In March 2015, the police had raided the homes of Harvey Proctor, Lord Bramall and Leon Brittan to look for evidence – the raid on Proctor’s home was described by John Mann MP as being “the first of many”.

Rumours about a “Westminster paedophile ring” consisting of politicians and other establishment figures have been in the public domain for many years (most famously thanks to Scallywag magazine in the early 1990s), but the recent flurry of media and police interest has for the most part focused on the testimony of several alleged survivors of the ring: “Nick”, “Darren”, Richard Kerr, and Esther Baker.

Nick’s account turned out to be highly fantastical and problematic, and he is now being probed for allegedly attempting to pervert the course of justice, while Darren was highly erratic and inconsistent. Both men have been the subject of critical investigative newspaper articles. Operation Midland was finally wound down last year; the Henriques Report, published in November 2016, was highly critical of how the police handled the whole affair [UPDATE 2019: Nick can now be named as Carl Beech, and his claims have been found to have been fraudulent. More details here].

However, Kerr’s story has not been subjected to any critical scrutiny before now. Abuse at Kincora has been established beyond any doubt, and Kerr was obviously genuinely distressed when discussing his memories of the past in his media appearances. On Channel 4 News, he described having been taken to various locations in the north of England aged 15 before reaching London aged 17. Arriving at King’s Cross (until its recent regeneration, a seedy area of London associated with the rougher end of the sex industry), he was taken to a nearby hotel and made to have sex with several men; he became associated with rent boys in Piccadilly Circus and was taken to Elm Guest House and “by taxi” to Dolphin Square. He says that Elm Guest House he was subjected not just to sex abuse but to sadism.

Around the same time as he spoke to Channel 4, he also contributed to an Australian news documentary segment titled “Spies, Lords and Predators”, which was broadcast on Channel 9’s 60 Minutes. That documentary introduced a distortion to the story: it claimed that Kerr had entered Kincora aged 9 rather than 14, and in a reconstruction of Kerr supposedly being taken by Rolls Royce around London to be abused by VIPs, the boy model used looks about 10 years old. In this version, Kerr stated that Dolphin Square was “the first place” to which he was taken in London, rather than a hotel in King’s Cross.

On television, Kerr did not name any of his alleged abusers, aside from Peter Hayman – Hayman, a diplomat who died in 1992, was known to have been a paedophile and to have worked for MI6, probably as Deputy Director. Hayman’s photo was shown to Kerr by the Channel 9 journalist Ross Coulthart, who introduced it as “another photo” – an indication that Kerr had in fact been shown a series of photos that were not included in the documentary. According to the Needleblog, whose author has spoken to Kerr, Kerr did indeed identify several other individuals, but then asked for this segment not to be used. He said that he had been taken by surprise, and that he was unsure about some of the identifications he had made.

Channel 9 agreed not to show that part of the documentary, but it was seen by Mark Watts at Exaro News, who then ran a piece headlined “Richard Kerr Names Powerful Men who ‘Covered Up’ Kincora”. The Needleblog reproduces an email which shows that Watts went ahead despite having been specifically asked by Kerr not to do so – apparently, the incident led to another Exaro journalist, Fiona O’Cleirigh, leaving the website.

In the article, Kerr is said to have named Lord Mountbatten, Sir Maurice Oldfield (former head of MI6), Anthony Blunt and Sir Knox Cunningham (Unionist/Ulster Unionist MP). Exaro added (as quoted by the Report, 159):

Kerr tells 60-minutes that he walked in on a meeting at Kincora between Oldfield and Joseph Mains, the warden of the children’s home. He says that Mains immediately and forcefully ordered him out of the room. Mains was subsequently, in 1981, jailed for six years for sexual offences against boys. Kerr did not know at the time who Oldfield was, he says, and does not suggest that he abused Kincora boys. Kerr says that he recognised Blunt from his time at Kincora as one of a group of three men, the other two men sexually abused him as a boy, he says, although Blunt did not.

It does seem implausible that anyone could recognise a face decades later belonging to someone they had had happened to “walk in” on. According to the Report (230):

[Kerr says that as] a school boy he returned early to Kincora one day, walked into [Joe] Mains’s office and found Mains and Semple with “three men in suits”. He said he got the strong feeling he “had interrupted something secret and important, I would describe them as being shocked to see me”. He does not say that any of the three men spoke. As we shall see in the next chapter and as has already been confirmed by many of the other residents, officials from social services regularly visited Kincora during his time there. No doubt others did so in plain clothes, such as DC Scully. Any reputable visitor would have been surprised at a school boy entering the office and interrupting their business in that fashion. To infer from his description that he interrupted something improper is to place a sinister construction on the occasion without a shred of evidence to justify it.

Chapter 28 of the Report discusses Oldfield in more detail; it says that a 2001 note from someone in the Special Intelligence Services places Oldfield in Northern Ireland in the 1970s (paragraph 616), but its accuracy has not been established. Further (618):

Whilst on balance the absence of any reference in the SIS records to Sir Maurice Oldfield being in Northern Ireland before he became Security Coordinator in 1979 is indicative that he was not, however, the absence of an explanation for the note to which we have referred means that we cannot put the matter any higher than that.

In contrast to the sensational articles that appeared in 2015, the Sunday Times article and a follow up the next day in The Times seem to be the only articles now raising the problems around Kerr’s testimony in the wake of the Report. However, other articles have noted that the Report rejects claims that Kincora was used by the security service to blackmail British politicians – a long-standing allegation.

One final note: given Kerr’s unhappy past and his obvious present distress and vulnerability, it is natural not to want to take a critical approach to his claims. Some would say that we must simply “believe the victim” – and Kerr undoubtedly is a victim of sexual abuse and exploitation. However, such an approach does not make the difficulties with Kerr’s testimony disappear. These are matters that must be addressed by anyone who wants to continue to take his claims at face value – both for the sake of truth, and because false and mistaken allegations destroy innocent lives.