Clive Sheldon QC’s independent report into child sexual abuse allegations in football has revealed that “significant institutional failings” were made by Football Association. The long awaited report was released yesterday afternoon, and was closely followed by a statement from the Football Association’s chief executive, Mark Bullingham, in which it was admitted that the survivors were “let down by the game, the authorities and society as a whole.”
The report was commissioned by the Football Association (“FA”) in November 2016 after abuse survivor and former Crewe Alexandra player Andy Woodward waived his anonymity in an interview with The Guardian and revealed that he had been sexually abused by his former coach Barry Bennell. Woodward was the first football player to discuss these events publicly, and Bennell was sentenced to 31 years in prison on 19 February 2018 for 50 counts of child sexual abuse.
The purpose of the report was to investigate allegations between 1970 and 2005 and looked at what information the FA had regarding these allegations at the time and whether any action was taken or should have been taken. The report took 4 years to prepare and focused on clubs such as Crewe and Manchester City (where Barry Bennell had been a youth coach in the 1980s and 1990s) and also Southampton, Newcastle, Peterborough, Aston Villa, Leicester, Blackpool, Cambridge United and Norwich City.
The report found that, although there is no evidence that the FA were aware of the problem before 1995, they “acted far too slowly to introduce appropriate and sufficient child protection measures and to ensure safeguarding was taken sufficiently seriously by those involved in the game.” The findings suggest that although several of the perpetrators knew each other, there is no evidence of a paedophile ring, despite there being at least 240 known suspects and 692 survivors. It is expected that the number of survivors is likely to be much higher than this, as relatively few people reported abuse and when they did, the responses they received from people in authority at their clubs were “rarely competent or appropriate”.
In a statement released shortly after the findings of the report, Bullingham, on behalf of the FA, expressed a “heartfelt apology” to the survivors and, addressing them directly, said that “no child should ever have experienced the abuse you did.” Bullingham recognised that “we all failed to protect them (survivors)” and urged parents and carers to be “aware of today’s risks” – stating that “while football is in a very different place, threats to children still exist in society” and “particularly in the online space”.
A separate review was also commissioned by Manchester City FC in November 2016 with the aim of understanding whether, and if so how, the club was used by Barry Bennell or any other individual to facilitate the alleged sexual abuse of children from the early 1960s to the present day. The review was led by Jane Mulcahy QC and the findings pointed to the “wholly inadequate response” of the club and its failure at that time to investigate fully or involve the police. In order to offer compensation to survivors of this abuse, Manchester City were the first club to launch a scheme in March 2019 which they termed the Manchester City FC Survivors Scheme, whereby survivors can access monetary compensation, paid for counselling and/or personal apologies as an alternative to the lengthy and adversarial litigation process. In a statement released yesterday on behalf of the Board of Directors, it was announced that the scheme would remain open for applications until 31 August 2021. In the statement the Board of Directors also apologised publicly to the survivors and extended its “heartfelt regret and sympathy” to the family and friends of those affected by the abuse.
At Switalskis we are pleased to have successfully represented a number of applicants under the Manchester City FC Survivors Scheme already and we are actively pursuing cases on behalf of survivors who wish to come forward. To speak confidentially to Rob Casey, the Director and child abuse solicitor leading on child abuse cases in sports, please call us on 0800 138 4700 or contact us through the website.