The Football Association ‘could have done more to keep children safe’, a damaging report into abuse within the sport has found.
English football’s governing body delayed introducing protection measures between 1995 and 2000 in an ‘institutional failing’ which left youngsters at risk – and failed to ban two serial predatory paedophiles from the game according to the much-awaited, QC-led review which raises serious questions but falls short of unearthing a cover-up.
Clubs have also come under fire across 700 pages of the independent probe into child sexual abuse in football between 1970 and 2005. Following reports of abuse, responses were ‘rarely competent of appropriate’, Clive Sheldon QC has found.
The report mentions that there are known to be at least 240 suspects and 692 survivors in the period covered in the inquiry ‘yet relatively few people reported abuse and the actual level is likely to be far higher’.
A damning 710-page report says that the FA ‘should have taken steps to prevent Barry Bennell (pictured) from involving himself further in football’ following his release from prison in 2003
Crewe youth team coach Bennell (right) with first team boss Dario Gradi (left) in March 1989
The front page of Clive Sheldon QC’s explosive 710-page report, released today
Elsewhere in the report, the FA is said to have displayed a ‘lack of strategic thinking, a lack of expertise’ in an environment where ‘in general child protection was not regarded as an urgent priority’ following the first convictions of offenders in 1995.
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.
He says that after Bennell, currently back in prison, was released in 2003, the FA ‘should have taken steps to prevent him from involving himself further in football’. He adds: ‘the failure to do so allowed children to be put a potential risk’ although he does say there is no evidence that Bennell did seek to involve himself in the sport following his release.
Sheldon says that senior management at City were aware of rumours and concerns over Bennell’s conduct in the early 1980s but did not investigate and ‘should have done so’. He adds that City also should have investigated arrangements for boys staying at Bennell’s house, where many of the attacks took place.
Sheldon’s (pictured) damning report has been released four years on from its commission
Ex-Crewe boss Gradi is another subject of the report, but there was no major criticism of the man whom is currently suspended from football and recruited Bennell at Gresty Road
The QC has also found that it was ‘likely’ that three Crewe directors discussed ‘concerns about Bennell which hinted at his sexual interest in children’ and there is ‘no evidence advice of a senior police officer to the club’s chairman to keep a “watching brief” on Bennell was heeded’.
However, there is no major criticism of former manager Dario Gradi, who is currently suspended from football and whom recruited Bennell at Gresty Road. The report includes sections of a witness statement Bennell gave in a civil proceedings case against the club in 2003.
In the statement, Bennell says that the suggestion that nobody at the club ‘knew or suspected that sexual abuse was being perpetrated is ridiculous’. He adds: ‘I cannot imagine why I was not told to stop in view of the complaints made. That said however, with what I know now, and the fact that Dario Gradi had many boys staying at his house which I believe he continues to have, then it is not surprising at all.’ Sheldon, however, says: ‘Ultimately, I have decided that Bennell’s account cannot be relied upon’. Gradi also told the inquiry that Bennell’s claims were false.
Chelsea are criticised for failing to protest a young player from ex-scout Eddie Heath (No 6)
Heath (centre), was employed by Chelsea from 1968 until he was sacked 11 years on, in 1979
Elsewhere, Chelsea are criticised for failing to take steps to protect a young player who had reported abuse by former scout Eddie Heath around 1975, while Aston Villa – then managed by Graham Taylor, ‘should have reported disclosures about sexual abuse by Ted Langford to the police when his role as a scout was terminated in July 1989.
Newcastle ‘should have acted more quickly’ following disclosures of abuse by coach George Ormond and Peterborough and Southampton ‘were aware of rumours about the inappropriate behaviour’ of ex-coach Bob Higgins, jailed for 24 years in 2019, and ‘were aware of boys staying at his home’.
On the matter of Higgins, Sheldon says the FA should have reviewed his case following an amendment to its disciplinary rules in 2003 which lowered the standard of proof following concerns raised by a County FA over his continued involvement in the game in 2002. ‘This was not done,’ he adds.
Bennell, who is currently in prison serving a fifth sentence for child sex abuse, pictured during his coaching career
Sheldon concludes by setting out a list of recommendations. Within them, he calls on the FA to make one of its board members a ‘Children’s Safeguarding Champion’, adds that it should widen spot checks and publish an annual safeguarding report.
He said: ‘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. As well as recognising and facing up to what happened in the past, it is also important that this terrible history is not repeated, and that everything possible is done now to safeguard the current and future generations of young players. I hope that this report will make some contribution towards that.’
The FA are expected to issue an apology and further comment this afternoon.