Brendan Smyth
Convicted paedophile Brendan Smyth died in 1997 aged 70Reuters

An inquiry into how a notorious paedophile priest was able to abuse children for decades is due to begin in Northern Ireland.

The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry (HIA) will look into how Father Brendan Smyth got away with abusing more than 140 children – some as young as eight – over a 40 year period.

Smyth was finally convicted of over 100 child abuse charges after being at the centre of one of the first sex abuse scandals involving the Catholic Church in Ireland. He died of a heart attack in 1997 just one month into serving a 12-year jail term after admitting to 74 child abuse charges.

Despite allegations and official church investigations involving the priest first emerging as far back as 1975, Smyth was not convicted of any offence until nearly 20 years later.

Smyth was found to have been moved between parishes and dioceses for years on both sides of the Irish border before finally being brought to justice.

The HIA inquiry is being led by retired judge Sir Anthony Hart and will hear testimonies from residents of several former institutions.

The injury will examine if there were any opportunities to prevent Smyth from carrying out the abuse and if any action of inaction amounted to systematic failings.

Smyth was first convicted child sex offences in 1994 after being sentenced to four years in jail for 43 charges of sexually assaulting children in Northern Ireland.

He was later given a separate three-year sentence to run concurrently after being found guilty of a further 26 charges.

In 1997, he was handed a 12 year sentence after admitting another 74 charges after appearing in court in the Republic of Ireland.

The findings of the inquiry at the Banbridge Courthouse in County Down are due to be submitted to the Northern Ireland Executive by 17 January 2017.