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Victims of children's homes 'vindicated' after inquiry finds evidence of abuse

Victims of Northern Ireland children's homes have said they feel "vindicated" after a public inquiry found evidence of widespread abuse.

The independent probe recommended compensation payments of up to £100,000, funded by the state and voluntary institutions responsible for the residential homes where the harm occurred, with payments beginning later this year.

Those who suffered in state, church and charity-run homes should also be offered an official apology from government and the organisations involved, the Historical Institutional Abuse inquiry led by retired judge Sir Anthony Hart found.

It noted evidence of systemic failings in most of the 22 institutions and homes it investigated, and said sex crimes against children were ignored to protect the good name of the Catholic Church. One child who complained was effectively silenced.

Margaret McGuckin, of Savia (Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse), said: " We are relieved, as young children who tried to complain about our abuse but nobody would listen, particularly religious orders and those devout Christians. People disbelieved us and even bullied us for daring to complain.

"And now Sir Anthony Hart has made it a special day for us where he has believed us and vindicated us."

Jon McCourt, who suffered abuse at a home in Londonderry and helped spearhead the campaign for an inquiry, said the political crisis could delay payments.

He challenged quarrelling politicians: "Don't let us down now."

Sir Anthony outlined a series of recommendations after he revealed shocking levels of sexual, physical and emotional abuse in the period 1922 to 1995.

He said: "We therefore urge the new Executive and Assembly to give effect to our recommendations and to do so as a matter of priority after the election.

"We believe that those who have waited so long for their voices to be heard deserve no less."

Stormont elections have been called following the resignation of deputy first minister Martin McGuinness earlier this month and it is uncertain when a new power-sharing coalition will be formed.

Sir Anthony's panel's findings included:

:: The former head of the Catholic Church in Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, was part of an investigation which "effectively silenced" an alleged victim of serial sex attacker Fr Brendan Smyth.

:: Smyth's crimes over many decades were ignored to protect the good name of the Church. He was not reported to police and this allowed him to continue his wrongdoing.

:: No credible evidence was found to show that the security services were complicit in exploitation of sex abuse at Kincora boys' home in East Belfast or that prominent Establishment individuals were involved.

Sir Anthony said: "We believe it is now time to finally lay these unfounded myths to rest."

:: A scheme for sending child migrants from institutions to Australia after the Second World War was "gravely defective" and lessons from previous similar operations were ignored. The organisations behind the scheme relied on unrealistic assurances about the conditions in homes in Australia.

:: Some individuals provided excellent care and in the last three decades up to the 1990s there was an improvement in physical conditions.

Sir Anthony said the minimum payout should be £7,500, payable to anyone who was abused, including those who experienced a harsh environment, or who witnessed such abuse.

An additional payment of £20,000 would be made to anyone sent to Australia under a controversial migrant scheme.

An extra enhanced payment would be made to anyone who was more severely abused. The maximum compensation would not exceed £100,000.

Sir Anthony said there was evidence of sexual, physical and emotional abuse, neglect and unacceptable practices across the institutions and homes examined.

"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 found that those institutions that sent young children to Australia were wrong to do so and there were failures to ensure the children were being sent to suitable homes.

The HIA report also rejected long-standing allegations that a paedophile ring containing British Establishment figures abused boys in the notorious Kincora boys' home in Belfast.

It also dismissed claims that intelligence agencies were aware of such a ring and covered it up in order to blackmail the high-profile abusers.

Three staff members at Kincora were found guilty of abusing residents in the 1970s but there had long been rumours that others, including civil servants and businessmen, were involved.

Sir Anthony said the notion that Kincora was a homosexual "brothel" used by the Security Services as a "honey pot" to obtain compromising information about influential figures was without foundation.

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

"The Executive Office remains sensitive to the needs of all those who have suffered abuse and is mindful of the destructive impact it has had on many people."

Archbishop Eamon Martin, the head of the Catholic church in Ireland, said he apologised unreservedly to all those who fell victim to abuse in church run homes.

He said the church had to now demonstrate it was serious about making reparation for the sins of the past.

The senior cleric's apology was replicated by a number of religious orders that ran homes where abuse occurred.

Archbishop Martin said: "I apologise unreservedly to all those who suffered from their experience in Church-run institutions, and to their loved ones. They have given details for all to see of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Their story is one of anxiety, isolation and pain."

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