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Hart Attack

Hart report into Kincora naively believed MI6 that it never blackmailed ‘homosexuals’ but contains nuggets of insight, nevertheless

By Joseph de Búrca

Part I


Sir Anthony Hart has just delivered his report on historical sexual abuse in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the media have largely ignored it because it appeared on the same day as the inauguration of Donald Trump. A large part of it dealt with the Kincora Boys Home scandal. In early 1981 Joseph Mains, William McGrath and Raymond Semple, all of whom worked at Kincora, were convicted for the rape of some of its residents. Allegations have circulated ever since that MI5 (which is attached to the British Home Office) and MI6 (which is attached to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office) knew about the abuse but covered it up to blackmail Loyalist politicians and paramilitaries. One of those implicated in the alleged cover-up was Sir Maurice Oldfield, the Chief of MI6, 1973-1978 and Northern Ireland (NI) Security Coordinator 1979-1980.

Hart found no evidence that MI5 and MI6 had known about the abuse before it came to public attention in 1980. Among other things, he relied on assurances from MI6 in arriving at this conclusion. Unfortunately, his faith in MI6 was misplaced for they lied to him. According to paragraph 237 of chapter 28 of his Report, an anonymous representative of MI6, “Officer A” assured him that MI6 did not “use homosexuality to pressurise an individual, but because homosexuality would make others vulnerable to blackmail it would be of interest” to it.  No less a figure than Sir Dick White can be cited to contradict this assertion. White sat at the summit of the intelligence community in the early 1970s as Intelligence Co-ordinator at the Cabinet Office. Uniquely, he had served as both Director-General of MI5 and Chief of MI6 before this. He was a pivotal figure in the intelligence overhaul which took place in NI in the early 1970s. White told his biographer, Tom Boyer, author of The Perfect English Spy (1990),that MI6 had blackmailed Archbishop Makarios of Cyprus into signing the 1959 Lancaster House Agreement which had curtailed the independence of Cyprus and granted Britain a number of military bases on the island because of “information about his homosexuality”. (231)


London had gathered the blackmail material on the Archbishop during Operation Sunshine which was run jointly by MI5 and MI6. One of the protagonists was Bill Magan, an Irishman from Athlone, who ran MI5’s Colonial Affairs Department. Quite a lot is known about him because he wrote a string of books including one about his military exploits during WWII and another in which he claimed that his family had descended from the McDermott Roes; yet he never wrote about his career in MI5. The Magan family had once presided over Killyon Manor in Meath, though by the time of Magan’s birth, they were living at a mill house at Levitstown, near Athy. One of the books Magan wrote, An Irish Boyhood, described the Spartan upbringing he had endured, notably eating boiled sheep’s heads.

The second Irishman involved in Operation Sunshine was John Prendergast. Born in Gorey, County Wexford, in 1912, he was posted as an assistant district commander in Palestine in 1946 before moving to the Colonial Police Service with an assignment on the Gold Coast. He then served on “special duty” with MI5 in Egypt in 1952. In 1953 he became the Director of Intelligence in Kenya, a post he held until 1958 when he was put in charge of the intelligence apparatus in Cyprus.

During the operation, Makarios’ phone lines were tapped by Peter Wright of MI5 and Peter Wyke of MI6. All the calls Makarios made of an intimate nature were recorded. In addition, Stephen Hastings of MI6 (who later became a Conservative MP) was running an agent inside Makarios’ inner circle.

Final negotiations about the future of Cyprus took place at Lancaster House in England where, on 18 February, 1959, it looked like an agreement had been reached. At the last moment Makarios threw a spanner in the works by withholding his signature. The chairman was prevailed upon to extend the negotiations for a day. Makarios repaired to his luxury suite at Claridge’s where, some time over the next few hours, MI6’s blackmailers struck. Makarios returned the following morning and told the conference that he “had decided to relent”.


MI5 and MI6 were not the only British powerbrokers who gathered information for blackmail: it was a commonplace practice at Westminster. Ted Heath, who served as Tory chief whip, 1956 to 1959, brought a professionalism to the task by assembling what became known as the Dirt Book, an encyclopaedia of embarrassing information about his colleagues, designed to stop them stepping out of line. It was exploited during the Suez Crisis.

When the Labour Party took over, Edward Short (later Deputy Leader of the Labour Party) became the new Chief Whip. He was repelled by the ‘dirty book’ and discontinued the practice.

When the Tories returned to power again, William Whitelaw stepped into the post of Chief Whip.  He unashamedly confessed to the BBC in 1995 that he continued the practice:

“The Dirt Book is just a little book where you write down various things you know or hear about people that may or may not be true. I think you could make a very good guess what sorts of things it contains”.

We know exactly what it contained: one of Whitelaw’s successors, Tim Fortescue MP, who occupied the post of whip between 1970 and 1973, made it abundantly clear on camera to the BBC:

“Anyone with any sense, who was in trouble, would come to the whips and tell them the truth, and say, ‘Now I’m in a jam. Can you help?’ It might be debt, it might be [..] a scandal involving small boys [author’s emphasis], or any kind of scandal in which [..] a member seemed likely to be mixed up. They’d come and ask if we could help, and if we could, we did”.

Fortescue’s reference to “small boys” implies that blackmail material was gathered about MPs who were having sex with boys who were probably a lot younger than 21, the then legal age of consent. He also confessed that “scandalous stories” were of great assistance to whips.

“When you are trying to persuade a member to vote the way he didn’t want to vote on a controversial issue – which is part of your job – it is possible to suggest that perhaps it would not be in his interest if people knew something or other – very mildly”.

William Whitelaw became Northern Ireland Secretary, 1972-1974. Hence by 1972 both the British PM and the NI Secretary were experienced sexual blackmailers, hardly a deterrent to anyone in the intelligence community who wanted to engage in sexual blackmail.


There are other examples of MI6 involvement in sexual blackmail, often run in conjunction with MI5.

Christopher Herbert served as MI5’s Security Liaison Officer (SLO) with the RUC, 1968-1970. He had been educated at Trinity College Dublin where he had obtained a first-class degree in experimental science. He subsequently gravitated towards MI5’s surveillance department which employed burglars and locksmiths. Peter Wright, who had tapped Makarios’s phone in Cyprus, was one of its officers. In Spycatcher Wright described how for five years he and his team had “bugged and burgled our way across London at the State’s behest, while pompous bowler-hatted civil servants in Whitehall pretended to look the other way”.He also revealed that the most“extensive microphoning operation [we] ever undertook was in Lancaster House [..] which hosted the Colonial conferences of the 1950s and 1960s”. He installed a “comprehensive microphoning system throughout the building” which was used “throughout the rest of the 1960s and 1970s, whenever high-level diplomatic negotiations took place in London”.

Herbert returned to London from Belfast in 1970 and was assigned to K Branch where he oversaw the blackmail of a Soviet agent, Oleg Lyalin, in London. In Spycatcher Wright revealed how MI5 and MI6 placed him and his secretary Irina Templyakova with whom he was conducting an illicit affair, under surveillance. When they felt they had enough material to blackmail him, he was confronted and coerced into working for them. Lyalin supplied a list of KGB officers in the UK, and in September 1971 Edward Heath expelled over 105 of them from Britain.

Another Soviet that MI5 tried to blackmail was Sergi Grigovin. Peter Wright described how MI5 burst in on him during one of his extramarital trysts in London. The naked spy immediately claimed diplomatic immunity and demanded his clothes back while his erstwhile companion was ushered from the building. After two hours of trying to browbeat him, MI5 gave up, returned his clothes and let him go.

Another example of MI5 sexual blackmail involved the well-known case of Andrew Ward, one of the central figures in the Profumo sex scandal. Ward, whose family came from Ireland, had befriended Eugene Ivanov, the Soviet military attaché at the British Embassy in London. When MI5 learned of this, they approached Ward to help them ensnare Ivanov. The operation was cancelled when MI5 discovered that the Conservative Minister for War, John Profumo, was also involved with Ivanov’s lover, Christine Keeler. This discovery came too late and the affair spun out-of-control and ended in the resignation of Profumo.


Ireland did not escape sexual blackmail. In the summer of 1970 ads began to appear in Belfast newspapers advertising massage parlours. What the customers did not realise was that the establishments had been fitted out with surveillance equipment. It is not clear whether MI5 or MI6 ran the operation.

One brothel, the Gemini Health Studio was located on the Antrim Road. When it opened its doors in the summer of 1970 it promised “very attractive masseuses’ in advertisements in Belfast newspapers. Another more upmarket brothel was located on the Malone Road. The Gemini was closed down after the IRA attacked it in 1972.

Peter Wright was probably the leader of the surveillance teams which set up the monitoring stations at the brothels and other honeytraps in NI. In his memoirs he revealed that MI5’s D Section employed a string of prostitutes. He was also the man MI5 used to give warnings to important people who were due to travel behind the Iron Curtain about the likelihood they would be targeted by KGB sexual blackmailers.


The Hart Report contains some significant new information about Kincora. MI5 carried out an enquiry into the conduct of the former MI6 Chief Sir Maurice Oldfield after it discovered in 1980 that he had been lying about his homosexuality for decades during routine positive vetting and – in their eyes  –  had potentially opened himself up to blackmail by rival foreign intelligence services. MI6 reviewed their files relating to the matter in 2011. According to Hart:

“Officer G [of MI6] examined four ring binders with material relating to Sir Maurice Oldfield, including the 1980 MI5 investigation. Officer G made the following comments at the start of his note.

“The relationship [Oldfield] had with Kincora boys’ home (KBH) in Belfast and subsequent “rent boy scandal” is, in my view the only remaining potential sensitivity in the papers.

“The sensitivity being that [Oldfield] may have a link (by association through his friendship with the KBH Head) to the alleged crimes at the boys’ home. Given the current climate surrounding similar cases, it may at some point emerge as an issue” (Chapter 28, Paragraphs 619 ).

Hart noted that paragraph 5 of the MI6 review paper contained the following comment:

“More worryingly is the small collection of papers in file three which relate to the relationship [Oldfield] had with the Head of the Kincora Boys’ Home (KBH) in Belfast.”

Hart concluded that this was not evidence of MI6 involvement in Kincora because Officer G had made a mistake and was merely referring to allegations about the relationship Oldfield had had with the “KBH Head” (620).

However, neither MI6 nor the Hart Report has quoted any contemporaneous report alleging a friendship between Oldfield and the Warden of Kincora, Joseph Mains, the only man who fits the description of “KBH Head”.


Despite the foregoing criticisms, there are a great number of commendable aspects to the Hart Report, not the least of which is the exposure of Sir George Terry’s misconduct of his investigation into the Kincora scandal in the early 1980s. Throughout the report Hart provides logical reasons for his decisions and fair-minded people can make their own minds up by reading them. Unfortunately, the combination of the lies fed to him by the intelligence services, a string of missing documents and the unwillingness of a number of vital witnesses to cooperate, renders it unlikely his report will lay the Kincora scandal to rest.