BRITAIN'S largest ever public inquiry will travel from the "corridors of power" in Westminster to the poorest parts of the country to uncover the true scale of child sex abuse, its chairwoman has vowed.
Judge Lowell Goddard issued a stark warning to individuals and institutions that they will face scrutiny "no matter how apparently powerful".
She said both victims and society had been left "scarred" by historic abuse and referred to estimates suggesting that one in 20 children in the UK has fallen victim as evidence of the "sheer scale" of the problem.
Finally opening the troubled inquiry, the judge stressed it will not hesitate to make findings relating to named people and organisations.
The probe is expected to take up to five years and cost tens of millions of pounds.
All strands of public life in England and Wales will come under the spotlight - including politics, children's homes, hospitals, GPs' surgeries, schools, churches, charities, local authorities, the Crown Prosecution Service, the NHS, the BBC and the armed forces.
The panel will examine allegations of abuse by prominent figures, with this work including inquiries relating to individuals in central government, political parties, the security and intelligence services, as well as present and former members of the Special Branch.
However, Alliance assembly member Chris Lyttle said he was "extremely disappointed" the former Kincora Boys’ Home in east Belfast has not been included in the inquiry.
MI5 has been accused of covering up sexual abuse at the home throughout the 1970s to protect an intelligence-gathering operation.
He said the ongoing Northern Ireland abuse inquiry "does not have the requisite powers to compel evidence from those we need to hear from the most".
Justice Goddard said the British abuse inquiry "must travel from the corridors of power in Westminster to children's homes in the poorest parts of the country".
She added: "No-one, no matter how apparently powerful, will be allowed to obstruct our inquiries into institutional failings, and no-one will have immunity from scrutiny by virtue of their position."
The inquiry can compel witnesses to give evidence but is not able to determine criminal or civil liability.
Justice Goddard stressed that her panel will not hesitate to make "findings of fact" about alleged conduct in relation to named individuals or institutions "where the evidence justifies this".
The New Zealand high court judge asked child abuse victims and organisations with a duty of care to protect children to come forward.
She said she hopes the inquiry's work will be completed by the end of 2020.
The inquiry - set up last July following claims of a high-level cover-up of abuse - has been beset by delays following the resignations of two previous chairwomen.