Football

Child sex abuse claims – the story so far

Media playback is not supported on this device

It is three weeks since ex-Crewe defender Andy Woodward waived his right to anonymity to say he was a victim of sexual abuse as a young footballer.

Since then, more than 20 former footballers – including ex-youth players, trainees and professionals – have also come forward with allegations of historical abuse in football.

The Football Association has announced an internal review, 350 people have alleged they are victims and 55 amateur and professional football clubs are linked to allegations of abuse.

FA chairman Greg Clarke says it is the biggest crisis he can remember for the organisation.

How did the news emerge?

On 16 November, former Bury and Sheffield United player Woodward, 43, waived his right to anonymity and told the Guardian he was sexually abused as a youth player.

Since he spoke out, several others – including former England and Tottenham footballer Paul Stewart and ex-Manchester City striker David White – have told their stories publicly.

On Monday, former Crewe Alexandra players Woodward and Steve Walters, and ex-Manchester City youth player Chris Unsworth launched an independent trust that will “fight for justice” and support victims.

The Offside Trust is asking for donations from the English Football League, Football Association, Premier League, Professional Footballers’ Association and commercial organisations that profit from the game.

How many clubs are involved?

To date, there are 55 amateur and professional football clubs linked to allegations of abuse, with several having confirmed their own inquiries.

Chelsea have apologised “profusely” to former footballer Gary Johnson over abuse he suffered in the 1970s and are conducting their own review into the case.

QPR say they are taking allegations made against former employee Chris Gieler “very seriously” and will “co-operate fully in any forthcoming investigation”.

One anonymous former QPR player told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme that Mr Gieler touched him on his genitals in the 1980s, when he was aged 15.

Charlton Athletic, Crewe Alexandra and Manchester City have also opened investigations into allegations of historical abuse.

Newcastle say they will “co-operate fully” with the “relevant authorities”, while Southampton are “fully supporting” Hampshire Police in its investigations.

On Tuesday, former Saints star Matt le Tissier said he had been given a “naked massage” by Bob Higgins – an ex-Southampton coach at the centre of sex abuse allegations. It is also claimed he showered naked with young players while working for the Malta FA between 1989 and 1994. Higgins denies any wrongdoing.

Martin Glenn, FA chief executive, has said: “We have clear rules in the game and if there’s any evidence of a breach of those – and hushing up would be one – when it’s our turn to apply the rules, we absolutely will, regardless of size of club.”

He later added: “I can’t say if there has been a cover-up in the game but I doubt it.”

What is the FA doing?

The FA has begun an internal review – led by Clive Sheldon QC – to look at what officials and clubs knew and when. It had been intended that Kate Gallafent QC would lead the review, but she was replaced because of other professional commitments.

The review will look at what information the FA was aware of at relevant times and what action was, or should have been, taken.

The FA has said it is working closely with police but added it “must ensure we do not do anything to interfere with or jeopardise the criminal process”.

The FA is expected to question Crewe Alexandra football director Dario Gradi over claims he “smoothed over” a complaint of sex assault by ex-Chelsea scout Eddie Heath in the 1970s.

The Child Protection in Sport Unit, which has assisted the FA in relation to its safeguarding procedures since 2000, will also carry out an independent audit into the FA’s practices.

BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme reported that the FA scrapped a major review of its child protection policies in 2003.

Are police investigating?

Twenty-one police forces have opened investigations into the claims.

They are:

Devon and Cornwall, Warwickshire, Avon and Somerset, Essex, Norfolk, North Yorkshire, Dorset, Staffordshire, Greater Manchester, North Wales, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, Cheshire, West Midlands, South Wales, Dyfed-Powys, Scotland Yard, Police Scotland, Northumbria Police, Derbyshire Constabulary and the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Which other organisations have acted?

A dedicated sexual abuse helpline, set up by the NSPCC and supported by the FA, received 860 calls within its first three days.

The organisation made more than 60 referrals to a range of agencies across the UK.

That was more than three times as many as in the first three days of the Jimmy Savile scandal, the charity said.

The chief executive of funding body UK Sport has said if any sport did not take enough action to deal with the issue of abuse it would reconsider its funding.

The national child abuse inquiry is considering whether to investigate abuse in football as part of its overarching probe, culture secretary Karen Bradley said.

What about the rest of the UK?

A former youth football coach and top-flight assistant referee has been accused of a catalogue of child sex offences in Scotland.

Pete Haynes, 50, claims Hugh Stevenson sexually abused him over a three- to four-year period from 1979. Stevenson died in 2004.

Media playback is not supported on this device

Scottish Football Association chief executive Stewart Regan “apologised deeply” to Haynes, and told the BBC his organisation took full responsibility for child protection failings of the past.

On Wednesday, Partick Thistle said they had identified a historical allegation of abuse made in 1992 against a former club physiotherapist, who is now dead. The club said Police Scotland and the Scottish Football Association had been informed.

Three of Wales’ four police forces are investigating allegations of historical child sexual abuse at football clubs.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has started investigating a number of allegations linked to football clubs.

It told the The Nolan Show it had received a “very small number of allegations of non-recent child sexual abuse”.

How widespread could abuse be?

Media playback is not supported on this device

Former Tottenham midfielder Stewart has said the sport could be facing a crisis on the scale of the Savile scandal.

After his death, former DJ and television presenter Savile was found to have been a prolific sexual predator.

A lawyer representing the Offside Trust told the BBC that “calls and emails are coming in all the time” from people claiming to have been forced to sign non-disclosure agreements with clubs in return for compensation.

Edward Smethurst told BBC sports editor Dan Roan he “could not make specific allegations” but revealed “several” victims had come forward.

line

Have you been affected by the issues raised in this story? You can email haveyoursay@bbc.co.uk with your experience.

Please include a contact number if you are willing to speak to a BBC journalist. You can also contact us in the following ways:

  • WhatsApp: +44 7525 900971
  • Tweet: @BBC_HaveYourSay
  • Send an SMS or MMS to 61124 or +44 7624 800 100

About the author

mm

World News Feed

Considered one of todays leading news correspondents, World News Feed has covered many of the worlds most dangerous conflicts and devastating events.

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment

Translate this Content

ArabicChinese (Simplified)Chinese (Traditional)EnglishFrenchGermanGreekItalianJapanesePolishPortugueseRussianSpanishSwedish