The chairman of Northern Ireland's historical abuse inquiry Sir Anthony Hart has died suddenly, it has been confirmed.
Sir Anthony chaired the Historical Institutional Abuse (HIA) inquiry which examined children's homes run by religious orders, charities and the state.
The retired High Court judge died on Tuesday morning in London after a heart attack.
Sir Anthony, who led the inquiry, found that there had been widespread abuse and mistreatment in some Northern Ireland children's homes between 1922 and 1995.
He recommended a compensation scheme for abuse victims.
Marty Adams of the Survivors Together group, who was abused at Rathgael Training School in Bangor said he was "very saddened" at the sudden death of Sir Anthony.
“Victims of historical abuse are very thankful and great full for the help and support he gave to victims during his public inquiry,” he said.
“It was Sir Anthony who believed in victims and it was Sir Anthony who delivered the truth when others failed.
“We offer our sincere condolences to his family circle at this sad time.”
Church of Ireland Bishop of Down and Dromore, Reverend Harold Miller said: "It was a pleasure and privilege to know Tony.
“He served the Lord, the church and the community with faithfulness and integrity, with humility and firmness.
“He will be greatly missed.
“Our comfort is in knowing that he is in the closer presence of his Lord.”
’Strong but gentle’
Sir Anthony, who was known as Tony, was described as a “strong but gentle Christian believer” who served a number of roles at St Mark’s Dundela.
He was also Chancellor of the Diocese of Down and Dromore, and assessor at the Diocesan Synod last month.
Sir Anthony made the recommendation for a redress scheme for victims two years ago, however it has yet to be implemented.
Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley has been accused of delaying the proposed scheme.
Victims campaigner Margaret McGuckin said Sir Anthony helped deliver justice for abuse victims.
Ms McGuckin, a founding member of the Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (SAVIA) support group, added: “We were never believed about the allegations against our abusers but that changed in Sir Anthony’s findings two-and-a-half-years ago.
“He vindicated us that day and it was joyous and it’s a pity that he didn’t live to see us get compensation.
“These government figures have not delivered for abuse victims.
“Sir Anthony became a close figure to us, we looked up to him and he delivered justice for us.
“The government will now have to do something in his legacy and deliver our compensation.”
The head of the Civil Service, David Sterling, described Sir Anthony as a hugely respected figure in Northern Ireland and a man of "great integrity".
“He enjoyed a long and distinguished legal career and had a reputation as someone unflinching in his pursuit of the truth and scrupulous in his analysis of evidence,” he added.
“It was those characteristics that saw him appointed in 2012 by the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister as chair of the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry.
“I met Sir Anthony recently in connection with his work on the Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry and I had planned to meet him again.
“We owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his work as chair of the inquiry and his commitment to helping the victims of historical institutional abuse.
“His passing will be a great shock for everyone associated with the Inquiry and I pass on my sympathies to his family.”
The Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said Sir Anthony was one of the most respected, distinguished and admired judges of our times.
“His years of hard work and dedication to the courts, justice and the most vulnerable people in society will leave a huge void,” Sir Declan added.
“His passing will be deeply mourned by all in the legal profession.” – PA