Wednesday 28 September 2016

My close encounters with a predatory paedophile

Child rapist Kevin Carroll could have been stopped years earlier, writes Nicky Larkin, who knew him and his reputation

Nicky Larkin

Published 06/03/2016 | 02:30

Monster: Kevin Carroll escaped a child porn charge on a technicality, then worked with children for the next 12 years Photo: Courtpix
Monster: Kevin Carroll escaped a child porn charge on a technicality, then worked with children for the next 12 years Photo: Courtpix

His reign of terror lasted over two decades. The dogs on the street knew he was a paedophile - just never convicted. That finally changed last Friday, when he was sentenced to 10 years in prison for two counts of raping a seven-year-old.

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Kevin Carroll, from my hometown of Birr, operated as a choirmaster and drama teacher from the early 1990s right up until his conviction. In 1993, he established the Camcor Singers - the choir he named after the river that flows through Birr - who won multiple Community Games All-Ireland titles. His national success afforded him the protection of a loyal cabal of incredibly naive Birr parents, who worshipped the ground he walked on.

I had a lot of dealings with Kevin Carroll, in various capacities. As a child and teenager, I competed every year throughout the mid and late 1990s, swimming for Offaly in the Community Games All-Ireland Finals in Mosney.

Kevin Carroll was there every year as an Offaly manager, overseeing not just his choir, but all the Offaly kids for the three nights around the chalets of the old Butlins Holiday Camp in Meath.

As teenagers, we referred to him as KFC - Kiddy Fiddler Carroll. He stalked the Offaly team chalets every night with his flash-lamp, peering in through the windows while all the kids were asleep. The next morning, he would take twisted pleasure in describing exactly what position he'd watch you sleep in. Even as kids, we knew this was weird.

He turned up at the swimming pool in Birr every June for the county finals, despite having no business being there. He brought a little school-desk to cover his crotch as he'd watch the young swimmers compete.

Then, later each summer, when it came to the All Ireland finals in Mosney, he'd be a permanent fixture on the deck of the Mosney pool too - again having absolutely no business being there.

That was just the tip of the iceberg. The stories from his long reign at the helm of the Camcor Singers and his speech and drama group are endless - on a perverted spectrum of behaviour ranging from plain creepy to absolutely illegal.

He was the only person I knew that had a video camera in the mid-1990s. After his choir had won competitions, he would make his infamous 'celebration videos'. This involved him going into the changing rooms with his camera while his pre-teen choir was getting dressed.

He'd invite my friends in the choir up to his house in Hawthorn Drive for curries, where he'd kiss children and tell them he loved them while they sat on his knee.

The skimpy outfits he made his drama class wear were ludicrously sexualised. Children wearing belly-tops and miniskirts. Worse again, grass skirts and nothing else.

Yet despite all the obvious evidence, his loyal cabal of sycophants cheered on his every move. Like attack dogs, they protected and defended him with venom any time allegations or rumours surfaced - of which there was an endless stream.

But to the outside world, his reputation as an All-Ireland winning choirmaster grew to the point that in 1998, he and the choir were invited up to Donegal to record a charity single with Daniel O'Donnell. However, his reputation as a sleazebag had also grown and a small group of concerned parents met in a Birr hotel to arrange to travel to Donegal with the choir.

In summer 2001, I was asked to take over as coach of the Birr swimmers for the Community Games. Although only 17, I was swimming at club level and working part-time as a lifeguard and swim teacher in the pool in Birr. As part of my duties as swimming manager, I was required to travel to Mosney that August to oversee the races.

For the first time, I was considered an adult in an Offaly tracksuit. Kevin Carroll absolutely resented my presence, as if I was hampering his free rein. Ironically, he even warned his choir to stay away from me, saying he didn't trust me. Then, one of those evenings in Mosney, he plied me with red wine - his attempt to manipulate my opinion of him. He was ever the expert at identifying a weakness and exploiting it. Every 17 year old wants easy access to alcohol.

A few months later, in May 2002 he was arrested as part of Operation Amethyst. This was an Interpol investigation of Irish credit card transactions to a child pornography website in Texas.

One hundred Irish individuals were arrested in this swoop, including Judge Brian Curtin in Kerry, and celebrity chef Tim Allen. The decade of constant rumours about Kevin Carroll were suddenly all confirmed.

Yet he escaped conviction on a technicality. His case collapsed - just like Judge Curtin's - when it emerged that the gardai had put the wrong date on the search warrant. He moved out of Birr, but that wasn't the last of Kevin Carroll.

A few months after his arrest - in August 2002 - I was in Mosney as a manager for the second time. This time, I didn't stay for the weekend with the other managers. Instead, I drove up and down on the day of the swimming events. When the last of the Birr swimmers were finished competing, I took them to the nearby take-away.

While standing in the queue for chips, I turned around and, to my shock, Kevin Carroll was standing behind me, surrounded by children. This time he was wearing a Carlow tracksuit, instead of an Offaly one. He'd relocated after his child porn arrest and continued working with kids. His case having collapsed, he had no conviction and had escaped the sex offenders' register, so he was entitled to Garda clearance.

After that final encounter in 2002, he seemed to disappear into the ether and I heard nothing about him for over a decade. Then, in summer 2014, I got a text from a friend, telling me Kevin Carroll had been arrested on child rape charges. He'd done another disappearing act and had established a drama school in Athlone - again surrounding himself with children.

His case finally came to court this month. He pleaded not guilty, meaning his victim - now in her late 20s - had to take the stand and relive her nightmare. He was found guilty of two counts of rape against a seven-year-old girl in 1997 and again in 1998. His incredibly brave victim waived her right to anonymity, so her rapist could be named and shamed.

In the two weeks between being found guilty and being sentenced to prison, Kevin Carroll strolled around Birr as if he hadn't a care in the world. He went into cafes, he attended funerals, all the while lobbying anyone who'd listen that his child rape conviction was a big mistake; that he was not guilty.

He operated an incredibly public Facebook page right up until the morning of his sentencing last week. It was his 56th birthday the day before he was put away and, in a sickening display, a handful of middle-aged women wished him happy birthday on his Facebook page.

Now he's finally locked up; his two-decade reign of terror over. But many questions remain. His loyal cabal of disciples has dwindled, but not completely evaporated. He still maintains a couple of ardent supporters, despite his conviction and subsequent exposure in the national press.

He hid in plain sight for over two decades and enjoyed the protection of the parents of the very children he was terrorising.

I hope the bastard rots.

Sunday Independent

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