A cult-like evangelical Christian society at a leading private school allowed a powerful and charismatic barrister to groom and sadistically abuse boys with impunity, an investigation has found.

Members of the Christian Forum at Winchester college “showed signs of what would today be described as radicalisation”, said a 197-page review commissioned by the elite school into abuse carried out by John Smyth QC, reports the Guardian.

The school’s then headteacher, John Thorn, was informed of the abuse in 1982 but did not report it to police. Smyth moved to Zimbabwe, where he abused “as many as 90 boys, possibly resulting in the death of one”, the report said.

Winchester college apologised “unreservedly” for its part in the “terrible experiences” of Smyth’s victims. In a statement, it said: “The review … demonstrates in particular that John Smyth was able to infiltrate the college’s Christian community and gain access to the college’s pupils, providing him with the opportunity to groom and then abuse them.”

The review, published on Tuesday, said that Smyth had “unfettered access” to the college. “Multiple staff members, including the headmaster, were aware that Smyth was in close contact with boys in the Christian Forum and that he had a powerful influence over them”.

However, “levels of supervision … were not sufficient to prevent or detect the physical or sexual abuse which Smyth perpetrated against pupils.”

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