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17 March 2021 | Comment | Article by Danielle Vincent

The Football Association Independent Review of Child Sexual Abuse

The Football Association Independent Review Inquiry was commissioned by the Football Association in December 2016 to investigate a number of football clubs following  disclosure of sexual abuse over the years by survivors.

The football world has been rocked by allegations of abuse by coaches and scouts such as Bob Higgins, Eddie Heath, Ted Langford and Barry Bennell for many many years.

Ted Langford, Barry Bennell and Bob Higgins were all convicted. Eddie Heath died in 1983.

The abuse by these coaches/scouts had gone on over decades without intervention. This begged the question how did they get away with this, undetected by the clubs, enabling them to remain in positions to abuse.

The independent report was chaired by Clive Sheldon QC and became known as ‘The Sheldon Report’. The clubs involved in the investigation included; Manchester City, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Leicester City, Newcastle United, Southampton, Stoke City, Queens Park Rangers, Crewe Alexandra, Blackpool and Peterborough United. 

The report was due to be disclosed in 2018, however this was delayed due to the ongoing criminal  trial of Barry Bennell. Survivors have been waiting years for the findings of this report and have understandably been frustrated and upset by numerous delays in the publication, stopping some from feeling they could move on.

The independent report was published on 17 March 2021. The report which consisted of 710 pages, was made up of survivor statements, witnesses and football officials (both current and former).

The report disclosed that there were at least 240 suspects and 692 survivors of sexual abuse. Of course, this is only the number of individuals who have come forward, and sadly there are likely to be many many more survivors who chose not to disclose as is common with sexual abuse cases.

The report was very critical of those who did not alert police to abuse suffered by young footballers. This had already been highlighted by the Geekie report which criticised Dario Gradi, the assistant coach for Chelsea FC and later Crewe Alexandra FC, for not referring complaints regarding Eddie Health’s behaviour.

The report found:

  • The FA were slow to respond following high profile disclosures of abuse in 1995 and could have done more, specifically during this period but took another five years to implement any change. The report described this as “institutional failings” in delaying the implementation of child safeguarding measures.
  • In around 1975, Chelsea FC should have taken steps followings disclosure of abuse by Eddie Heath’s sexual advances and misconduct in or around 1975.
  • In 1989, Aston Villa FC should have reported disclosures about sexual abuse by scout Ted Langford to the police
  • In the early 1980’s Manchester City FC senior management were aware of rumours and concerns about Barry Bennell. The Club did not investigate these rumours. The Club should also have investigated the arrangements for boys staying at Bennell’s house. It was also found likely that three Directors of Crewe Alexandra FC discussed concerns about Bennell which hinted at his sexual interest in children. There is no evidence that the advice to the club from a senior police officer to keep a “watching brief” on Bennell was heeded. The report found the Club should also have ensured that there were safeguarding in place for boys staying overnight at Bennell’s house. The report found the boys should have been spoken to and therefore may have made disclosures to the Club.
  • In 1990, Stoke City FC were also aware of rumours about Bennell during his time associated with the Club and steps should have been taken to monitor him.
  • In 1997, Newcastle FC should have acted more quickly following disclosures of abuse by George Ormond at the Youth Club. Ormond was removed from the Club many months later, however prior to this he was still permitted to travel abroad with young players with no additional safeguarding.
  • Peterborough FC and Southampton FC were aware of rumours about or inappropriate behaviour of Bob Higgins. The clubs were also aware boys were staying at his home. The report found Higgins should have been monitored by the club more and the FA again was criticised for the failure to look at the allegations at the clubs.

Further criticism was also raised regarding current safeguarding policies in football. The report makes 13 recommendations to help protect children in the future. This will include:

  • A board member becoming a safeguarding champion
  • An annual review of safeguarding spot checks
  • Employment of safeguarding officers at 92 professional clubs
  • Annual safeguarding review and a National Day of safeguarding in football.
  • Launching an online campaign.

The report did not find any evidence of conspiracy between clubs to cover up abuse in English football.

Individual clubs at the time of writing are providing their own responses. Peterborough United and Newcastle United have released apologies. 

 

If you’ve experienced sexual abuse in any form, you have every right to make a claim for damages, and we’re here to advise and support you through the legal process. Speak confidentially to one of our specialist solicitors today.
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Disclaimer: The information on the Hugh James website is for general information only and reflects the position at the date of publication. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such. If you would like to ensure the commentary reflects current legislation, case law or best practice, please contact the blog author.

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