Belfast Telegraph

HIA: Victims of historic child abuse in Northern Ireland should get compensation and apology

Hundreds of victims of historic child abuse in Northern Ireland should receive state-backed compensation payments of up to £100,000, an inquiry has recommended.

Those abused in state, church and charity run homes should also be offered an official apology from government and the organisations that ran the residential facilities where it happened, the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry found.

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

He said the minimum pay-out should be £7,500 with the maximum amount given to those who had experienced severe levels of abuse as well as being transported to Australia in a controversial migrant scheme.

He said the organisations that ran the abusing homes should make a financial contribution to the Stormont Executive-run scheme.

Sir Anthony said the four-year inquiry found "evidence of systemic failings" in the institutions and homes it investigated.

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

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The investigation also focused on the activities of paedophile priest Brendan Smyth.

During evidence sessions the inquiry heard lurid details about the activities of the serial child molester who frequented Catholic residential homes and was convicted of more than 100 child abuse charges.

Sir Anthony said despite knowing his history of abusing children, the Norbertine religious order moved Smyth to different diocese where he abused more children.

They failed to report the abuse to police "enabling him to continue his abuse", it found. The Order also failed to take steps to expel him from priesthood, said the inquiry.

The fate of Sir Anthony's compensation recommendation is mired in a degree of uncertainty, given the recent Stormont crisis has resulted in the collapse of the current powersharing executive.

The retired judge said the redress scheme needed to be set up as a "matter of urgency".

He also recommended that the Northern Ireland Executive should create a body called the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry Redress Board.

The board would receive and process claims and payments, said the chairman.

The inquiry also recommended that a "suitable physical memorial" should be erected in Parliament Buildings in Belfast or in the grounds of Stormont estate.

It also called for the creation of a Commissioner for Survivors of Institutional Childhood Abuse to offer victims support and assistance.

It recommended the provision of extra state funding to provide specialist care for victims.

PSNI response to the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry report

Commenting on the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry report, ACC Mark Hamilton, Head of the PSNI’s Department of Legacy and Justice, said "The PSNI will take time to read the report in full and consider any learning from it however I would like to take this opportunity to thank Sir Anthony Hart and the panel for their hard work and commitment to this.

"We co-operated fully with the Inquiry, including declassifying tens of thousands of documents, to help ensure the panel could conduct a thorough examination of relevant material, and as such, we welcome today’s report and fully accept the findings.

"I apologise unreservedly for the police failings that have been identified within this report. I acknowledge that there were a number of occasions when a thorough police investigation could and should have been brought about which may have prevented more children from becoming victims. I also regret that we did not show the same rigour that we brought to the investigation in 1980 which led to three people being charged with offences relating to Kincora, brought before the court and convicted in 1981.

"At that time the RUC, like other UK police services, had no specialist units or officers trained in investigating child abuse however, I would reassure everyone that our approach to dealing with child abuse has since changed radically, in line with best practice in modern policing.

"Today, we have specially trained officers within the PSNI’s Public Protection Branch who work closely with our partner agencies on a daily basis to ensure a joined up approach to dealing with allegations of child abuse. This multi-agency approach is based on information sharing and joint police/ social care working which allows the agencies to effectively and promptly safeguard victims and potential victims."

Abuse chair hails courage of victims

The chair of Northern Ireland's public inquiry into historical child abuse has thanked victims for their "courage and determination" in giving evidence.

Retired judge Sir Anthony Hart hailed the bravery of the hundreds who gave evidence ahead of outlining the findings of the four-year probe.

At a publication event in Belfast, he said recalling their experiences would have been "painful and distressing".

"I thank them for their courage and determination," he said.

Evidence from hundreds of witnesses during 223 days of hearings outlined claims of brutality and sex abuse dating back to the 1920s in institutions run by churches and the state.

Sir Anthony has already indicated compensating victims will be among his recommendations.

But it is uncertain when action will be taken as crisis engulfs powersharing at Stormont and as new elections loom.

The public inquiry was ordered by Stormont's ministerial Executive following pressure from alleged victims and similar probes in the Republic of Ireland and elsewhere.

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