According to Freedom of Information requests by Panorama, in the last five years 363 sexual abuse allegations - both historical and current - have been made across the UK for the Army, Air and Sea Cadets. Reuters

Historic child sex abuse in Britain's cadet forces was repeatedly kept quiet by senior leaders in a cover up likened to the Jimmy Savile and Catholic Church scandals, an investigation has found.

More than 360 sex abuse allegations – both current and historic – have been made across the UK's Army, Air and Sea Cadets over the past five years, show figures obtained by BBC1's Panorama.

The claims have led to the dismissal of 99 instructors and the Ministry of Defence (MoD), which oversees the cadets, paying out more than £2m (€2.3m, $2.6m) in compensation to victims.

One solicitor involved in taking the cases to court said the abuse was so far reaching the scale of other child sex scandals, such as the Jimmy Savile case and abuse in the Catholic church.

Panorama's investigation, to be aired on Tuesday night (4 July), focused chiefly on historical abuse carried out by a number of different cadet leaders in Glasgow, Birmingham and Hertfordshire.

Victims spoke for the first time about the abuse being "hidden in full sight" and how their families were pressured by senior cadet leaders not to go to the police.

One victim, Martin, was aged 12 when he was "systematically abused and raped repeatedly over many years" by his commanding officer Brian Leonard, at Tennal Grange cadet base in Birmingham.

He told Panorama: "You are trained to follow orders and you are trained to respect the officers and do as they tell you. That includes having to lie on the floor on a dirty blanket and just lie there and... take it like a man. The thing was it was so blatantly obvious, it was almost as if it was hidden in full sight."

Panorama spoke to 10 men who were abused by Leonard in the 1980s, as well as the girlfriend of one victim who threatened to report the officer to the police in 1987 but was pressured by other cadet leaders to keep quiet.

Leonard died in 1996, having never faced justice.

Another victim, Tony, was aged 14 when he joined Cheshunt Sea Cadets, in Hertfordshire in 1979. He told Panorama he awoke to find his commanding officer, Allan Waters, at his bedside while on a weekend away trip.

"I looked down and I was exposed... There was no doubt in my mind that he was touching me, no doubt in my mind whatsoever," he said.

His parents were dissuaded from going to the police by Sea Cadet officers, who promised Waters would be moved from looking after children.

Panorama discovered he was neither dismissed nor suspended, however, and was instead promoted and moved to a north London division where he was in charge of 10 Sea Cadet units. Further complaints of abuse were then dismissed by the Captain.

Despite being convicted for separate child abuse offences in India in 2006 and placed on the Sex Offenders Register, Waters reportedly held a position in a naval veterans' organisation until March 2017.

A third victim spoke of how his commanding officer at Glasgow Highlanders Army Cadets, John Fitzpatrick, would invite cadets to his flat, ply them with alcohol and make them watch hardcore pornography.

The victim, who joined the cadets in 1988 when he was aged 11, woke up on four occasions to find Fitzpatrick sexually assaulting him. Despite pressure from senior officers to avoid police action, his abuser was later jailed for two years for lewd and libidinous behaviour against him and three other boys.

The Birmingham case was one of the first cadet cases taken on by David McClenaghan, a child abuse solicitor from law firm BBK. He told Panorama: "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."

The MoD says it now has "robust procedures in place to protect cadets" and that all adults who work with children undergo mandatory security and background checks, rigorous disclosure procedures and regular safeguard training.

A spokesman said: "We encourage anyone who has been a victim or knows someone who has to report it to the police."

The Marine Society and Sea Cadets (MSSC) added: "We now have a zero tolerance protocol and a specialist team to enforce our policies and provide support."