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Litany of failures allowed abusers to prey on kids, HIA inquiry finds

Probe attacks State, church and charity-run homes over widespread sexual, physical and emotional maltreatment and recommends compensation payouts up to £100k

By Claire O'Boyle

Hundreds of victims of historical abuse should each receive compensation of up to £100,000, an inquiry has said.

Crimes against children were widespread at State, church and charity-run homes between 1922 and 1995, with Catholic Church-run facilities the worst offenders, the long-awaited Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry report found.

As well as substantial State-funded compensation, victims should be offered a "wholehearted and unconditional" government apology for spectacular failures in their care, it said.

Sir Anthony Hart, who chaired the four-year inquiry, stressed that mistakes made by authorities directly enabled abusers to carry on ruining children's lives, even after their cruel and often depraved behaviour had been identified.

"There was evidence of sexual, physical and emotional abuse, neglect and unacceptable practices across the institutions and homes examined," the inquiry chairman said.

"The inquiry also identified failings where institutions sought to protect their reputations and individuals against whom allegations were made by failing to take any action at all, failing to report matters to or deliberately misleading the appropriate authorities and moving those against whom allegations were made to other locations.

"This enabled some to continue perpetrating abuse against children."

The inquiry recommended the minimum tax-free payout should be £7,500, with the maximum of £100,000 awarded to victims of the worst levels of abuse, as well as youngsters exiled to Australia in one of the most shocking examples of cruelty examined during the inquiry.

Witnesses told how children were treated like "baby convicts'", deprived of their identities and shipped across the world without parental approval.

"The inquiry found that those institutions that sent children to Australia were wrong to do so and there were failures to ensure the children were being sent to suitable homes," Sir Anthony said.

He also recommended that organisations that ran institutions where abuse was present should contribute to payments to victims.

Addressing one of the most notorious institutions investigated by the inquiry, Kincora Boys' Home in east Belfast, where 39 boys were abused, Sir Anthony rejected allegations that a paedophile ring involving figures from the British Establishment operated there.

He also said claims the home was used as a gay brothel by the security forces to obtain compromising information about influential figures were without foundation.

Three men - William McGrath, Raymond Semple and Joseph Mains, all senior care staff at Kincora - were jailed in 1981 in relation to the abuse of 11 boys.

Sir Anthony added that the authorities in Belfast were guilty of a "catalogue of failures" in relation to the home, and said that if a proper investigation had been carried out, many victims might have been spared.

At the De La Salle-run St Patrick's Training School in Belfast, the inquiry found children were regularly humiliated, stripped of their clothes and forced to stand naked. Members of the order also subjected children to "physical assaults".

At Rathgael Training School in Bangor, there was evidence of staff sexually abusing girls and of corporal punishment.

At Lissue House in Lisburn, Sir Anthony said there had been an unacceptable use of physical restraints and even injections to sedate children. Youngsters were also abused sexually and emotionally by "unfeeling" staff.

Some 189 ex-residents from four homes run by the Sisters of Nazareth order came forward with allegations of maltreatment.

The inquiry found nuns engaged in "physical and emotional abuse" with "denigration and humiliation" commonplace.

At Good Shepherd Sisters facilities in Belfast, Londonderry and Newry, the inquiry found young girls had been forced to do unacceptable industrial work in the laundries.

The inquiry also identified failings across a huge range of bodies including the Diocese of Down and Connor, the County Welfare Authorities, Health and Social Services Board, the Ministry of Home Affairs and Department of Health and Social Services, as well as local and statutory authorities.

During 223 days of often gruelling hearings, some 493 applicants engaged with the inquiry. Most were seen in Belfast, but others gave evidence from the Republic of Ireland, England, Scotland, Wales and Australia.

Former judge Sir Anthony recommended that the Executive establish a body called the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry Redress Board to deal with the issue of compensation as a "matter of urgency".

However, given the challenging political context in which the inquiry released its findings, the future of the compensation remains uncertain.

The inquiry also called for a "physical memorial" to be erected at a prominent spot in Belfast, at Parliament Buildings or in the grounds of Stormont Estate.

Sir Anthony appealed for the creation of a Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse to offer support and assistance to victims, as well as the provision of extra State funding for specialist care.

A spokesman for the Executive Office said the intention was to put the report to the Executive at the earliest opportunity.

"The Executive Office will continue to engage with and support victims and survivors' groups," the spokesman added.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Hamilton, head of the PSNI's department of legacy and justice, said: "I apologise unreservedly for the police failings that have been identified.

"At that time, the RUC, like other police services, had no specialist units or officers trained in investigating child abuse.

"However, I would reassure everyone that our approach to dealing with abuse has since changed radically, in line with best practice in policing."

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