LONDON - A major British inquiry into decades of child sex abuse will investigate allegations involving "people of prominence" and politicians as well as the Catholic and Anglican Churches, councils and schools, its head said on Friday.
The inquiry, which will last at least five years and cost about $27 million, was set up in July 2014 after a series of child sex abuse scandals dating back to the 1970s, some of which have involved celebrities and politicians.
Various institutions have been accused of failing to deal with abuse allegations and, in some cases, of actively covering them up at the behest of powerful establishment figures including senior lawmakers, spies and police officers.
"We will conduct an objective fact-finding inquiry into allegations of abuse by people of public prominence associated with Westminster," said the inquiry's chairwoman, New Zealand High Court judge Lowell Goddard.
She added: "The investigation will focus on high-profile allegations of child sexual abuse involving current or former Members of Parliament, senior civil servants, government advisers and members of the intelligence and security agencies. It will consider allegations of cover-up and conspiracy."
The government ordered the massive independent inquiry in July last year following notorious cases such as that of late BBC presenter Jimmy Savile, who abused hundreds of victims for decades, and revelations that 1,400 children had been abused in just one town in northern England.
Goddard highlighted findings this week by the Children's Commissioner for England which suggested as many as 450,000 children were sexually abused between 2012 and 2014 but only one in eight were identified.
"The scale of child sexual abuse in this country requires urgent and careful attention," she said.
Local authorities, residential schools, youth detention centers, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England, the armed forces and the Foreign Office would be among the institutions which would be investigated.
Some of the 12 separate investigations - a number unprecedented for a UK public inquiry - would take 18 months to complete while others might take years, as criminal proceedings would delay their progress, Goddard added.