Tonight sees the premiere in Belfast of a new film Lost Boys: Belfast’s Missing Children which throws a spotlight back onto a series of unsolved disappearances during the Troubles nearly 50 years ago.
Two boys, described as having learning difficulties, were last seen waiting on the Falls Road to catch a bus to school in November 1974. Thomas Spence and John Rodgers vanished. To date, they haven’t been traced, alive or dead.
There was certainly a lot going on in Northern Ireland at the time and missing people – even children – seemed to be far down the news agenda. The first mention of Thomas and John was in a short five sentence article on page five of the Belfast Telegraph four days after the boys went missing.
Filmmaker Des Henderson is not the first person – and won’t be the last – to ask what happened to Thomas and John, and a number of other boys whose disappearances have never been solved. Barry Cummins and Lyra McKee also looked into the issue.
Criminologist Robert Giles and long-time investigative journalists Chris Moore and Martin Dillon take part in the film which interviews people who believe that the evidence points to a case of child abduction and murder with a sexual motive. Children from Kincora boys home attended Thomas and John’s special school. There’s evidence of a network of men who were sexually assaulting children. And the police had identified links from another disappearance to that network which included figures at Kincora (some of whom were convicted) as well as others (who remained at large or were killed shortly before due to be interviewed by police).
Questions are asked about the scale and intensity of the investigation into these disappearances. Questions are asked about the admitted destruction of files that means potential evidence and clues/links are now missing. Questions are asked about the reluctance to pursue the network of paedophiles more vigorously, and whether people’s work as informers for intelligence services was the cause.
There are no answers. Only questions, potential cover-ups, and a deep feeling of sadness that the state didn’t do more to investigate, and that the circumstances at the time may have pressurised witnesses and people with information not to come forward to authorities. And now it’s too late.
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about, reports from, live-tweets and live-streams civic, academic and political events and conferences. He delivers social media training/coaching; produces podcasts and radio programmes; is a FactCheckNI director; a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland; and a member of the Corrymeela Community.