Public hearings of an inquiry into child abuse at Northern Ireland residential homes have ended after two-and-a-half years.

Hundreds of vulnerable former residents have made deeply personal and harrowing claims of sexual, physical and emotional suffering over many decades in care homes run by the church, state and the Barnardo's children's charity.

Retired judge Anthony Hart and two other members of the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) Inquiry will prepare a report for Stormont ministers within six months and are expected to recommend financial compensation be paid.

Mr Hart said: "We hope that our work and the work of our colleagues who conducted the private and confidential hearings of the acknowledgement forum has helped in some degree to ease the pain and distress suffered for so long by so many of those former residents who came forward to help us by telling us and through us the wider community in Northern Ireland and elsewhere of their experiences in residential homes and other institutions."

Some evidence during 223 days of hearings has covered brutality and sex abuse dating back to the 1920s.

The Inquiry finished with an investigation into the state-sponsored Kincora boy's home in east Belfast, where a boy was allegedly stripped naked and sexually assaulted on his first day.

Three senior members of staff have been imprisoned for sexual abuse of 11 boys amid unproven allegations of a sex ring involving prominent figures.

Earlier the expert panel heard lurid details about the activities of Fr Brendan Smyth, a serial child molester who frequented Catholic residential homes and was convicted of more than 100 child abuse charges.

Other former residents claimed some Catholic nuns at a Sisters of Nazareth children's home in Northern Ireland were sadistic bullies who did not do enough to protect residents from sexual predators.

A man alleged he was raped by a member of the Catholic De La Salle order of brothers using a piece of equipment for restraining farm animals.

Police said sex abuse at Rubane House in Co Down was rampant.

Children sent to Australia under a special transportation scheme were treated like baby convicts, witnesses said, deprived of their real identities and shipped without parental consent.

However a health worker who visited Kincora said she was unaware of the abuse, while a lawyer told the public inquiry fewer than 2% of residents at a Catholic-run training school alleged mistreatment.

Others said they had been well cared for by overworked staff when they had nowhere else to go and when wider society had rejected them because they were born to unmarried mothers or were orphans.

Some were resident during the chaos of 1970s Belfast or Derry when the Troubles were at their fiercest.

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.

It was created in 2013 to investigate child abuse in residential institutions in Northern Ireland over a 73-year period, up to 1995.