More than 350 complaints of sexual abuse perpetrated against members of Britain’s cadet forces have been made in the past five years, the Ministry of Defence has said, as reports emerged that some cases were covered up by the authorities.
Figures released by the MoD show that, of the 363 claims lodged between 2012 and 2017, 282 were referred to the police. The allegations also led to the dismissal of 99 instructors across the three cadet branches: army, air and sea, as Whitehall paid out more than £2m in compensation to the survivors.
The claims of a cover-up are due to be aired by BBC1’s Panorama on Tuesday evening. During a lengthy investigation, the programme’s journalists spoke to numerous witnesses and survivors who alleged that their accusations of sexual abuse within the cadets were not acted upon.
The breadth of the investigation has drawn comparisons to other major crime cases. “I have absolutely no doubt that the abuse in the cadets will mirror the other scandals like the Jimmy Savile case, like the abuse in the Scouts, like abuse in the Catholic church,” said David McClenaghan, of the law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp.
The figures were released to the BBC under freedom of information laws. They revealed that the army cadets accounted for about 55% of the complaints, while the air cadets generated about two-thirds and the sea cadets those remaining: about 8%.
Of the cases referred to the police, those in the army and air cadets accounted for roughly similar percentages, while all the 28 made about the sea cadets were referred. Those complaints also resulted in 28 instructors being dismissed from the sea cadets, while there were 62 removed from the army and nine from the air branch.
The programme will quote survivors of abuse, as well as other people who were made aware of it, who say they were pressured to not report their complaints to police.
Before his abuse began, another cadet instructor and a survivor’s parents had complained about Fitzpatrick. Each was told by a senior cadet officer that it would have been dealt with internally and that the police should not be involved. The parents ignored the warning but Fitzpatrick reportedly returned to the cadet force after a jury gave a verdict of “not proven”. He allegedly abused another boy thereafter and intimidated a witness into silence, before turning his attention to Joe.
Last year, after Joe spoke out, Fitzpatrick was investigated and charged with lewd and libidinous behaviour and sentenced to two years in prison.
The programme will also report on the case of Brian Leonard, the commanding officer at Tennal Grange cadets in south Birmingham. Nearly a dozen survivors alleged they were abused by him in the 1980s; the girlfriend of one of them claimed she was pressured into not reporting her concerns to the police.
No investigation into Leonard was carried out and he died in 1996, having never faced justice, Panorama will report. The programme, Cadet Abuse Cover-Up, is due to air on BBC1 at 10.45pm on Tuesday.
An MoD spokesperson said: “Child sexual abuse is an abhorrent crime, and we have robust procedures in place to protect cadets. This includes all adults who work with children undergoing mandatory security and background checks, rigorous disclosure procedures and regular safeguarding training. We encourage anyone who has been a victim, or knows someone who has, to report it to the police.”