Huge scale of FA inquiry into historical sex abuse revealed

The FA has released details of its investigation of child sexual abuse in football, showing that it has grown significantly in scale:

  • Five million FA documents to be reviewed

  • 65,000 football clubs have been contacted

  • Clubs and officials could be sanctioned

  • Investigation is looking into whether clubs covered up allegations of abuse

  • Claims a paedophile ring operated within football are also being investigated

Lying in a giant warehouse, untouched for decades and hidden somewhere inside one of five thousand boxes, there may well be documents revealing exactly how the Football Association responded to allegations of the sexual abuse of young boys.

These records are just the starting point for the FA's appointed inquiry team, tasked with finding out whether the scandal we are now finally addressing could have been curtailed at the time.

Inevitably it will address how many aspiring footballers should and could have been protected from events that have shaped their lives ever since.

The answer to that question might make for uncomfortable reading.

Of course, there is also the chance these boxes contain nothing of interest.

Credit: PA

They hold the FA’s entire archive, and it is the job of a handful of junior solicitors to go through each one of them as part of the FA’s wide ranging inquiry into, among many other issues, who knew what and when and what they did about it at the time.

Potentially that means reading five million letters, reports or pages of notes to test their relevance.

Add that to responses from 65,0000 football clubs contacted by the inquiry team and you begin to see the vast scale of the task ahead.

But this retrospective search for the truth doesn’t stop there, far from it.

Clive Sheldon, the QC leading the inquiry, and his legal team will speak to a host of interested parties as he pieces together the facts behind the darkest days of child protection within the national game.

They will speak to many survivors of abuse of course, but also to club officials, administrators, coaches and possibly even those found guilty or accused of carrying out the abuse.

They will also investigate the existence of any club cover-ups or payments made to victims of abuse and whether, as part of those payments, they were forced to sign “gagging” clauses.

There has also been talk that a network of abusers were operating within football; the team intends to investigate whether there is any evidence to back up what to date, are unsubstantiated suggestions.

Credit: PA

If the inquiry team comes across any potentially criminal activity it will pass information to officers at Operation Hydrant, the police investigation currently looking into allegations of non-recent child sex abuse.

Any club or official refusing to cooperate with the inquiry could well face FA sanctions.

The scope of the inquiry is not limited to boy’s football, it will also listen to any evidence relating to the girl's game.

Mr Sheldon recognises the period his team is looking into (1970-2005) does not mirror the world we inhabit today.

To that end he has promised to give his investigation context but he will also examine whether the FA in particular and football in general responded to child protection policies adopted by other sports.

The intention, of course, is to ensure there can never be a repetition of the horror and heartbreak we have all witnessed recently, thanks to the tragic testimony from a large group of courageous, men.

Inevitably there will be much soul-searching to come, and probably a lot more public pain before we get anywhere near that point.