A FORMER pupil of a Hampshire school at the centre of abuse claims has avoided jail after being convicted of sexually abusing boys.

Gareth Stephenson, 25, who was a student at Romsey special needs school Stanbridge Earls, admitted guilty to five sex offences and was convicted of a further six charges after trial.

Salisbury Crown Court heard that the crimes took place between 2000 and 2008 and that the first offence took place when Stephenson was 10 and the victim was five.

A number of the charges, which include sexual assault on a male under 13, sexual activity with a male under 16, and causing a male under 16 to engage in sexual activity, took place while Stephenson was a pupil at the £39,000-a-year school.

As previously reported by the Daily Echo, a serious case review was launched after the school was criticised for excluding a pupil who had made a rape claim.

In mitigation, the court heard that Stephenson had himself been the victim of abuse during his childhood.

Adam Hiddleston, defending, said: “He was a young man with a considerable degree of personal problems – he was a damaged child and was exploited throughout his childhood.”

Stephenson was given a two-year suspended prison sentence and ordered to carry out 175 hours unpaid work and sign the sex offenders’ register.

He was also made the subject of a sexual harm prevention order and a supervision order.

Following the sentencing, Hayley Porter-Straw, district crown prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Unit in Wessex said: "He has now been brought to justice and we would like to thank all the victims and witnesses who came forward and gave evidence.”