Thursday 18 January 2018

'Friendly uncle' exploited parents' trust

Breda Heffernan

HIS abuse of children spanned decades and continents. Brendan Smyth began his heinous crimes in the 1940s and was regularly moved by his superiors when allegations or suspicions surfaced.

The Belfast-born priest, who was a member of the Norbertine Order, targeted vulnerable children in orphanages and boarding schools here and in the US and even molested youngsters in their homes while their parents were in another room.

His favoured tactic was to befriend his victims' families and gain their trust. Once he had adopted the persona of a 'friendly uncle', he was able to bring them away on trips.

During his time as a priest in the Falls Road in west Belfast, he targeted four children from the same family. It was their courage in reporting the abuse to the RUC that would eventually lead to his first conviction.

In 1991 he was arrested and released on bail, before spending the next three years evading the police, staying just south of the border at his order's Kilnacrott Abbey.

The RUC issued an extradition warrant for Smyth in 1993. However, it would lie in the office of the Attorney General in Dublin for seven months, leading to the collapse of the Fianna Fail-Labour government.

Smyth, having come under pressure from his superiors, eventually turned himself over to the authorities in Northern Ireland. A year later, Smyth was convicted in a Belfast court of 43 charges of sexually assaulting children in the North and was sentenced to four years.

Upon his release, he was extradited to the south, where he pleaded guilty to 74 charges.

Just one month into his 12-year sentence, Smyth died of a heart attack at the Curragh Prison in Co Kildare.

Irish Independent

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