The FA ‘did not do enough to keep children safe’ from sex abuse in football, a hard-hitting report reveals today.
The extensive four-year investigation covering 1970 to 2005 delivers a damning verdict on football’s governing body and some of our top clubs.
And it praises the countless victims for coming forward to give evidence against a string of coaches.
Led by Clive Sheldon QC, the Independent Report into Child Sexual Abuse in Football found that there was no guidance provided to those working within football on ‘child protection matters’ even after coaches were taken to court.
Despite high profile convictions from 1995 to May 2000, – including against the game’s most notorious paedophile Barry Bennell – it found the FA should have done more to keep children safe.
Between Oct 1995 and 2000 there was a ‘significant delay’ by the FA with child protection measures in football.
The report adds that in that period, the FA ‘did not do enough to keep children safe’….. for which ‘there is no excuse’.
The FA has issued a “heartfelt apology” to all survivors of abuse, adding that this was a “dark day for the beautiful game”.
Mr Sheldon said that, even after May 2000, when the FA launched a comprehensive child protection policy and programme, mistakes were still made.
Those in charge of the national game ‘failed to ban two of the most notorious paedophiles, Bennell and ex-Southampton coach Bob Higgins, from involvement in football.
The report identified at least 240 suspects and 692 survivors. But it warns that the actual number of victims was likely to be ‘far higher’.
It goes on to state that the reaction of those in authority at football clubs was ‘rarely competent or appropriate’.
Mr Sheldon concludes: “I very much hope that this Report will be read carefully by all persons involved in administering the game of football today, including the FA and the clubs who were associated with perpetrators of abuse.
“Understanding and acknowledging the appalling abuse suffered by young players in the period covered by the Review is important for its own sake. Survivors deserve to be listened to, and their suffering deserves to be properly recognised.”
Child protection in sport has improved substantially since 2005, Mr Sheldon adds. “However, there is still more that can be done to keep children safe in football,” he says.
The Report makes 13 recommendations, including the role of a new “Children’s Safeguarding Champion” on the FA board. It also calls for checks at grass roots clubs in a 5-year strategy with specific intervention to support the voice of children.
Former Spurs and England star Paul Stewart, who told of his ordeal as a child for the first time in a Mirror interview in November 2016, is praised in the report, as is Andy Woodward, the first victim to come forward just a week before Paul gave his moving account.
Mr Sheldon stressed that abuse within football was not commonplace, and an ‘overwhelming majority of young people’ were able to play safely. But the report does outline failings at some of the biggest clubs in the UK.
At Chelsea FC, in relation to their former coach Eddie Heath, “steps should have been taken to protect the young player who had made a disclosure about abuse from Heath’s sexual advances and misconduct in or around 1975.”
Aston Villa FC should have reported disclosures about sexual abuse by Ted Langford to the police when his role as a scout was terminated in July 1989.
It was also found that Newcastle United FC should have acted more quickly following disclosures of abuse by George Ormond at the Youth Club “Monty’s” in early 1997.
Ormond was only removed from the Club many months later: in late 1997 or early 1998, and after Ormond had been permitted to travel abroad with young players.
Despite being aware of the allegations no additional safeguards were put in place by the Club. And the report states that Manchester City FC senior management were aware of rumours and concerns about Barry Bennell’s conduct in the early 1980s.
The Club did not investigate these rumours, and it “should have done so”. The Club should also have investigated the arrangements for boys staying at Bennell’s house.
At Crewe Alexandra FC, it is likely three directors discussed concerns about Bennell which hinted at his sexual interest in children. The report found no “watching brief” on Bennell was put in place and no ‘appropriate arrangements in place for boys staying overnight at his house’ despite the recommendations of a police officer.
Stoke City FC were also aware of rumours about Bennell during his time associated with the Club in the early 1990s and “steps should have been taken to monitor Bennell’s activities”.
Peterborough FC and Southampton FC were also aware of rumours about or inappropriate behaviour of convicted paedophile and former coach Bob Higgins, and were aware that boys were staying at his home.
The FA is responding to the report this afternoon, and is expected to stress that a number of safeguarding measures have already been put in place thanks to the bravery of the victims who came forward in 2016.
They have worked with Premier League clubs, and the English Football League, to improve safeguarding, and new measures are also expected to be put in place for the amateur ‘grassroots’ of the game.
In a statement today, Newcastle United said they had comprehensive and robust safeguarding measures in place to protect and support young people.
The Club’s dedicated safeguarding team proactively works with the authorities, governing bodies and other stakeholders to stay at the vanguard of child protection, in turn educating and sharing best practice with all staff across all sites.
“Upon receipt of Clive Sheldon QC’s full and final report today, the Club and its safeguarding team will take time to review and carefully consider its findings,” said a spokesman.
In response to the Clive Sheldon report, specialist abuse lawyer at Slater and Gordon, Kim Harrison, who represents over 40 football abuse survivors, said: “It is clear from the findings of the report that those in positions of power within football failed children in their supervision and care and for our clients nothing can bring back their lost childhoods blighted by abuse.
“Survivors feel failed by the FA and the various football clubs involved and this report and the way the FA have handled matters has left them feeling further let down.
“Reporting of any allegations or suspicions of abuse should be mandatory. Children can only be properly safeguarded when it becomes a legal obligation to report suspicions – and failure to do so results in criminal action.
“We still don’t have mandatory reporting and the law needs to change to protect future children.”
Mark Bullingham, chief executive of the Football Association, said in a statement: “Today is a dark day for the beautiful game. One in which we must acknowledge the mistakes of the past and ensure that we do everything possible to prevent them being repeated.
“Earlier today, Clive Sheldon QC published his independent report into allegations of non-recent child sexual abuse in football. This report is a very important piece of work and was commissioned by the FA after Survivors bravely came forward in November 2016.
“I’ve had the privilege of meeting some Survivors, whose courage is inspirational and whose stories are incredibly moving. They will never forget what has happened to them, and this report will now ensure the game will never forget either.
“So, today I address the Survivors directly, as the people that matter most. To them I say:
“You have the deepest admiration of the FA. Your bravery throughout this process has been incredible. Your voices have been so powerful.
“I’d like to start by giving a heartfelt apology on behalf of the
Football Association and the English game to all Survivors, that this happened to you within football. No child should ever have experienced the abuse you did.
“What you went through was horrific and it is deeply upsetting that more was not done by the game at the time, to give you the protection you deserved.”