The PSNI has said it has begun an investigation into allegations of physical and sexual abuse at Mother and Baby homes and Magdalene Laundries in Northern Ireland.

A panel of experts yesterday recommended the establishment of a public inquiry to investigate the experiences of thousands of women in the homes.

Around 13,000 single women were sent to a dozen such institutions over 70 years between the 1920s and the 1990s.

Their testimonies spoke of harsh conditions, unpaid labour and being forced to give up babies for adoption.

The Stormont Executive, which commissioned the experts' report, must now decide when and whether to adopt the recommendations.

The PSNI said it now had officers dedicated to investigate any abuse allegations reported to it.

Chief Superintendent Anthony McNally, head of the service's Public Protection Branch, said it recognised the "profound impact" people's experiences had had on them.

"Specially trained officers within our Historical Child Abuse Team will be investigating all allegations of non-recent physical and sexual abuse against residents of these homes.

"We have, from today, launched dedicated reporting mechanisms to make it easier for people to come forward to us with information."

He said any allegations would be examined thoroughly and any criminality detected would be "robustly investigated".

"I would encourage anyone who has been the victim of non-recent abuse or any criminal act arising out of these homes, or who has information likely to assist an investigation into a criminal act committed, to please come forward and report this. We care about what you have to say, will listen and support you, and will act to keep you and others safe."

A dedicated email address has been made available to anyone who wishes to report abuse allegations to police.

It is MotherBabyHomes.Magdalenelaundries@psni.police.uk and officers are also standing by to take calls on a dedicated phone line 02890 901728 during office hours.