Parents of promising young footballers have been warned, ‘don’t believe it won’t happen again’, after a report found that there were more than 240 abusers and almost 700 victims of child sex abuse in football over a 35-year period.
Marilyn Hawes campaigns to protect children and delivers training courses to organisations, including in sport, to help them identify and mitigate risks of child sex abuse.
Hawes is well-placed to offer advice: Her own three sons were abused for years by their head teacher, a close family friend, without her recognising the signs.
A damning 710-page report criticised the FA for failing to ban paedophile Barry Bennell
And she believes sport is a high-risk area, even though Clive Sheldon QC has now shone a spotlight on paedophile activities in football.
The barrister released his 710-page independent review into child sex abuse in football between 1970 and 2005 on Wednesday.
Campaigner Marilyn Hawes has warned parents that child abuse can happen again in football and in other sports
‘I think clubs are more alert to it but I think it will happen again,’ said Hawes, who set up a campaigning charity, Freedom from Abuse, after her children’s ordeal.
‘Where there are young people these predators will try to infiltrate.
‘Where there are youngsters who want to live the dream, they are vulnerable.
‘And it starts by grooming the adults, the management, the parents. Paedophiles are patient people.
‘Don’t believe this is never going to happen again.’
Sheldon’s report was critical of the Football Association and some clubs.
It says the FA delayed introducing protection measures between 1995 and 2000 in an ‘institutional failing’ which left youngsters at risk – and it failed to ban two serial predatory paedophiles from the game.
The report says there are known to be at least 240 suspects and 692 survivors in the period covered by the inquiry ‘yet relatively few people reported abuse and the actual level is likely to be far higher’.
Sheldon, whose report has taken more than four years to come to fruition, examines the cases of a number of infamous paedophiles, including that of former Manchester City and Crewe coach Barry Bennell.
Bennell is currently in prison serving a fifth sentence for child sex abuse
In many cases, clubs were aware of allegations, including coaches taking boys back to their houses, but failed to act.
Manchester City, Crewe, Chelsea, Aston Villa and Newcastle are among the clubs highlighted as not doing enough to protect young people in their care in the period covered by the inquiry.
Hawes says there needs to mandatory reporting in relation to abuse, which would place a legal requirement on senior staff to report allegations.
‘If someone made a report to you of child abuse you would have to report it, it would be law,’ she added.
Reflecting on the findings in Sheldon’s 700-page report, Hawes said: ‘[People in football] should hang their heads in shame. I don’t care what era this was in; the amount of abuse is shocking.
Clive Sheldon QC has published a damning report four years on from its commission
‘I know we did not know what we do now, but there must have been things screaming at them.’
It is not just at the professional level where paedophiles pose a risk to children, but throughout grassroots sport, said Hawes.
While some mainstream sports, including football, have improved the training of volunteers to provide better support to children and parents, Hawes believes it is not enough.
The FA has apologised to all those players who suffered abuse
‘Paedophiles are so clever and some safeguarding courses are just box-ticking exercises,’ she said. ‘It’s better than nothing, but they are devious.’
The FA released a lengthy statement in response to the findings, in which they apologised to the survivors on a ‘dark day for the beautiful game’.
Chief executive of the FA, Mark Bullingham, said: ‘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.
NSPCC helpline for adult victims and survivors of football-related childhood abuse 0800 023 2642. For more information about the support available click here
The National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) also have a helpline for any victims and survivors of childhood abuse (0808 801 0331) or click here
Club and Premier League safeguarding teams can be contacted for advice or to raise a concern. Click here for more information.
‘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.
‘There are consistent features in this review. Of bystanders who didn’t do anything. Of children that weren’t believed. Of the damage that has been caused.
In a staement, the EFL said: ‘The crimes of the perpetrators and the findings of this report must serve as a reminder about risks that remain both in our game and across society. The courage shown by those abused will help the game do all it can to ensure these tragic instances cannot be repeated.
‘The EFL accepts Clive Sheldon’s recommendations for the League and will work with The FA, clubs and other stakeholders to ensure that they are implemented as a minimum, where they have not been already.’
The Premier League said it accepted all the findings of the report.
‘The League has long-standing rules in place which govern our clubs,’ it said in a statement. ‘We will continue to prioritise the implementation of robust and effective safeguarding measures to promote and protect the safety and welfare of children, young people and adults at risk. However, there is no room for complacency. We regularly assess our safeguarding arrangements.’