A former senior PSNI officer is to lead a Stormont-ordered investigation into clerical child abuse and mother and baby homes.

Judith Gillespie has been appointed independent chairwoman of the group tasked with the work.

Academics from Queen's University in Belfast and Ulster University have been examining the operation of institutions such as the Magdalene Laundries between 1922 and 1999.

Ms Gillespie said: "I feel honoured to have been appointed to this important role.

"I am keenly aware that the work of the group is approaching a crucial stage.

"I look forward to progressing this work, and to engaging with stakeholders as appropriate going forward."

The Executive's inter-departmental working group will take forward work on mother and baby homes, Magdalene Laundries and historical clerical child abuse.

The appointment commenced with effect from 1 June and will run for an initial period of one year.

Ms Gillespie became deputy chief constable of the PSNI in 2009 after a lengthy career in policing.

She left the force in 2014 and is also a commissioner at the Equality Commission.

Northern Health Minister Robin Swann said: "I am confident that her wide-ranging experience and leadership skills will be a major asset to the group."

Women from mother and baby homes in Northern Ireland have told Amnesty International that they suffered arbitrary detention, ill treatment, and the forced adoption of their babies.

More and more clerical abuse victims are coming forward to reveal their suffering at the hands of abusive priests and gross failures by church and state authorities, the human rights organisation has said.

As recently as the 1980s, newborn babies were being forcibly taken from their mothers and given up for adoption by nuns in Northern Ireland's laundries, women forced into institutions in Belfast and Newry after becoming pregnant have claimed.

Because they were adults, they did not fall into Anthony Hart's public inquiry into child abuse in institutions.Victims have demanded their own public inquiries.

The previous chairwoman of the working group resigned due to ill health.