Lost Boys film-makers on exposing Brit-protected Troubles paedophiles
David Roy speaks to the film-makers behind new documentary Lost Boys: Belfast's Missing Children, which claims British intelligence may have protected those involved in the abduction, abuse and murder of children during the Troubles...
"WHAT has really got me to completely re-appraise the British part of my identity over the past five years is that we have pretty strong evidence of active interference by the British security services in our film," says English-born producer Ed Stobart of taking on the 'deep state' while making Lost Boys: Belfast's Missing Children.
"We've been burgled, we've been told that we've been hacked and that our scripts have ended up in various places," adds director Des Henderson.
"Amnesty International have advised us to check our phones for bugs. So it's against that backdrop that we're trying to tell these stories."
And they are horrific stories: utilising thousands of recently released historic documents alongside contributions from criminologist Robert Giles and veteran investigative journalists Martin Dillon and Chris Moore, Henderson's film pieces together possible links between five Belfast children who went missing from 1969 to 1974 and a network of paedophiles operating in the city – apparently with the full knowledge of the security forces.
David Leckey (11) and Jonathan Aven (14) disappeared in September 1969 after playing truant from school in east Belfast, while Thomas Spence (11) and John Rodgers (13) were last sighted at a bus stop on the Falls Road in November 1974.
Eleven-year-old Brian McDermott was last seen in Ormeau Park on September 2 1973. His mutilated remains were found days later in a sack in the River Lagan at Annadale Embankment.
No-one was ever arrested in connection with any of the cases, which all occurred within a four-mile radius.
"That there were four kids who'd gone missing was shocking enough – but that they went missing in pairs was very strange," says Henderson, whose previous film was 2017's How to Defuse a Bomb: The Project Children Story.
"When we started talking to professional forensic psychology 'profilers', they were saying, 'We have not seen anything like this. If we were investigating this case, the first thing we would do is look for a common offender'.
"That's when we decided, 'Well, there's definitely a story here'."
He's not wrong: Lost Boys makes a compelling, stomach-churning case for the existence of a network of organised, well-connected paedophiles who exploited the chaos of a rapidly escalating Troubles as cover for their crimes – crimes which were then covered up by the British intelligence agencies which had recruited many of these known child sex offenders to inform on the loyalist paramilitaries they were aligned with.
William McGrath, a prominent loyalist and Orangeman, was the 'house master' at the infamous Kincora Boys' Home in east Belfast, one of six men imprisoned for paedophile offences there and at other boys' homes in 1981.
Notorious Red Hand Commando leader John McKeague is also named as part of the Belfast paedophile network, as is Alan Campbell, a known associate of McGrath and McKeague. All three are claimed to have been British intelligence 'assets'.
Campbell was apparently the chief suspect in Brian McDermott's murder, yet was never even questioned about the crime. Recently declassified documents reveal that, in 1970, Campbell abducted a boy he met on a bus in Belfast city centre before abusing him at a flat owned by another known paedophile in Ross House on the Shore Road – not far from where John Rodgers and Thomas Spence went to school.
Although charged, the case collapsed. Indeed, Campbell was never convicted of any paedophile offences and later became a Pentecostal pastor and a Religious Education teacher at a Belfast secondary school. He died in 2017.
"I think the families will be horrified when they find out Alan Campbell was a suspect all along and that he was protected," comments Henderson of the Alleycats Films documentary, which was originally set to air on the BBC until he and Stobart found themselves at odds with the broadcaster over the final edit.
"This paedophile network came together knowing that the Troubles were happening, so people would be distracted, and what they discovered really quickly was that they were going to be allowed to do this.
"They would align themselves with loyalist terrorists like Tara [a paramilitary group founded by William McGrath] or the Shankill Defence Association in order to gain protection from the security forces in exchange for information.
"These people were well connected: Morris Fraser – a twice convicted paedophile – was the chief child psychologist at the Royal Victoria Hospital. He would send boys to Kincora and then go there and abuse them.
"The network is much bigger than the people we name in this film and includes people who worked in government, the RUC and the security services who were all in this together."
Although the horrors of the Troubles have been well documented over the years, there is something particularly disturbing about the claims made in Lost Boys – not least because the official Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry in 2017 found that MI5 had no involvement in a cover-up at Kincora.
However, former British Army intelligence officer Mike Taylor tells Henderson and co that MI5 faked testimony in his name during the inquiry in order to discredit claims made by Kincora whistleblowers Colin Wallace and Brian Gemmell.
Gemmell (now deceased), another ex-British Army intelligence officer, claims he advised superiors of the abuse at Kincora in the early 1970s, while former senior British Army 'information officer' Wallace – who was in reality involved in 'psy-ops', using blackmail and other 'dirty tricks' to recruit informers and disrupt the conflict – also claims his efforts to investigate abuse at Kincora in the early 1970s were thwarted by a conspiracy of silence that "went right to the top" – and that his files on the matter were destroyed.
"We've got enough material for at least another 90 [minutes] on just Kincora, but we capped it off, because it's important that we start to tell this story," says Stobart, who reveals that they also interviewed a man who claims he was raped by Lord Mountbatten at Kincora in 1977.
"Apart from anything else, it's to protect ourselves, because we are in such murky waters. When you are tangling with the state at this level, there is a certain amount of safety in actually just getting the story out there."
After five years in the making, Henderson is just glad that Lost Boys: Belfast's Missing Children will finally be seen by audiences this week.
"As a film-maker, you're just happy that anyone sees it," he tells me.
"So, that's number one. We're just delighted it's finally going to get an audience and I'm happy for the families, that they're going to get to see it and the story will be out there.
"What we're hoping now is do a bit of an extended run: it's gonna be at the Foyle Film Festival in Derry in November and then we're hoping to take it to as many festivals as we can after that.
"There's a life for this kind of film outside of that. It isn't with the BBC anymore, so we are free to do with it what we want, which is great. We're hoping to get as much coverage as possible and get it on as many screens as possible.
"It is a dark film, so it's not going to be easy - but you have to fight the good fight."
Lost Boys: Belfast's Missing Children will screen at the Irish Film Institute in Dublin on Wednesday September 27 and Odeon Belfast on Thursday September 28. It will then screen at the Foyle Film Festival in November, date tbc.