One of Britain’s most popular and well-established youth charities, the Sea Cadets, has paid out half a million pounds in out of court settlements to victims of an instructor suspected of sexually abusing children over the course of four decades.

Sea Cadet instructor Peter Sherwin, who died in 2014 was never convicted of any offences; however, the survivors of his abuse have appealed for others to come forward, after an apology was issued by the Sea Cadets following queries by the Guardian Newspaper.

Thus far, the charity has settled with eight victims of Sherwin, who held various senior roles in the Midlands and was awarded an MBE. Victims of his abuse came from different generations, including a father and son, while years of grooming and mental abuse were such that some victims visited him in hospital when he was dying and attended his funeral.

The Sea Cadets, which works with 10,000 young people across the UK and is supported and funded by the Ministry of Defence, told the Guardian the first it had been aware of the allegations against Sherwin was when West Midlands police contacted its safeguarding team in July 2013 to inform it of an investigation into a claim of abuse from the 1980s.

Sherwin was suspended after his arrest in October 2013 but after the case was dropped a month later due to a lack of evidence his suspension was lifted in March 2014. He died three months later.

A national review of historical Sea Cadets safeguarding cases was also launched in 2015 and no records, claims, or details of inappropriate acts related to Sherwin were identified, the charity said.

“It is clear that further allegations against the volunteer have since come to light revealing abhorrent abuse of an unknown number of cadets in the 1970s and 1980s,” it said. “Those that have come forward as victims, and those that will, shall be fully supported by Sea Cadets should they wish it. The charity unreservedly apologises for any hurt or anger felt by any victim of such abuse.”

In a follow-up statement by the Sea Cadets, the charity stressed safeguarding measures had been put in place, adding that it had a “zero tolerance” approach to abuse. It said it had a 24/7 safeguarding incident reporting line and all staff and volunteers were recruited following “safer recruitment practices”.

The charity has written to every parent and guardian of a sea cadet in the Midlands to alert them to the forthcoming publication of this article, which it expects to result in an increase in the number calls to its safeguarding line.

However, lawyers for survivors of Sherwin’s abuse say complaints were lodged about him as early as the 1980s but that he continued to be allowed “unfettered access” to cadets.

A former cadet also told the Guardian that he and a number of others had raised concerns to cadet authorities in the Midlands in 1997 about the amount of time Sherwin was spending with a 14-year-old cadet. He said the letter writers were pressured by local senior Sea Cadet officeholders to either drop the claims, or they were “forced out” of the branch.

Another survivor of Sherwin’s abuse, who had become a Sea Cadet at the age of nine and is among those to receive settlements, said Sherwin was allowed to groom not only young cadets entrusted to his care but also their families.

He told how Sherwin, an electrician by trade, had rigged up an elaborate system of alarms and surveillance at his local Birmingham branch, TS Stirling. The man said Sherwin had sleeping quarters known as his bedroom and two coaches adapted into mobile classrooms and bedrooms.

Sleepovers at the branch took place regularly, mostly with Sherwin in sole charge. The front gates would be locked and cadets would be encouraged to drink at a bar.

“It would be after waking hours during these sleepovers that ‘punishment’ would be meted out, undisturbed and uninterrupted. He had total control over everything,” the survivor said.

Farleys have successfully acted for survivors against leaders of youth clubs, Scout associations and Sea Cadets. Whilst we realise that this will never rectify past events, pursuing a claim can often help to ensure that our clients finally bring a sense of closure to their ordeals and provide valuable resources to fund medical treatment going forward.

If you or someone you know has been affected by abuse at the hands of a sea cadet leader or other youth pursuits, we would welcome hearing from you. We appreciate that it is often difficult to talk about what has happened and our team of compassionate solicitors are available to support you through this traumatic period. Call our dedicated abuse line on 0330 134 6430 or contact us by email and a member of the team with get in touch with you.