More than 250 scout leaders have been convicted of child sexual abuse in the UK and Ireland, new analysis has found.
Offences including rape, indecent assault, voyeurism and the possession, creation and distribution of indecent images made up scores of cases involving either leaders of the Scout movement or those in a position of responsibility.
The abuse cases stretch back as far as the 1950s, but also include convictions in recent years, including two men who were jailed last year.
Oliver Cooper, a scout leader from West Sussex, was jailed for six years in October for a string of offences committed two years earlier, including three counts of sexual assault against two six-year-old girls.
Another former scout leader, Graham Avison, of Audenshaw, Greater Manchester, was jailed for five years after pleading guilty to four counts of indecent assault against a teenage boy in the 1990s.
The revelations, first reported by The Guardian, have led to questions about the rigour with which safeguarding is enforced in the Scout movement.
Abbie Hickson, an associate in the abuse team at the Bolt Burdon Kemp law firm, which has compiled the data on scouting abuse convictions, told the newspaper: “The Scout Association must do much more to protect the safety of its scouts from sexual predators going forward. At present there is an ongoing culture where there is potential for abuse to be inadvertently facilitated and not actively prevented.
“Much of their safeguarding policy relies on the integrity of the Scout leaders themselves, and is dependent on the individual choosing to adhere to it. It is important to remember that scoutmasters who perpetrate sexual abuse against scouts are by their very nature highly manipulative, secretive, devious and opportunistic individuals.”
She said her law firm believes the actual number of perpetrators may be even higher than the 255 cases they have compiled, as it only reflects convictions.
A Scout Association spokesman told the Guardian: “Nothing is more important than the safety of the young people in our care. In the UK, we have had over 10 million young members since our inception in 1907. We recognise that over that time there have been incidents of abuse. Any abuse of a young person is abhorrent, and we are deeply sorry for anyone who has suffered because of the actions of abusers.”
“Keeping young people safe from harm is something we take extremely seriously. We have robust safeguarding policies and procedures in place, which are publicly available, and we regularly invite external challenge and review. This has included a review by the NSPCC in 2012 and a further independent review by Hugh Davies QC in 2015. Recommendations from these reviews have been implemented.”