FA should have done more to keep children safe from sexual abuse, review finds

  • Video report by ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott

The Football Association (FA) "could and should have done more to keep children safe" from historical sexual abuse, an independent review into the sport has found.

“Significant insignificant failings” meant the FA was “too slow” to have sufficient protection measures in place between October 1995 and May 2000. There was no evidence the FA knew of a problem prior to the summer of 1995.

The review conducted by Clive Sheldon QC has spoken to abuse survivors and survivor groups to examine what, if anything, the FA, clubs and individuals knew about reports of abuse between 1970 and 2005 and what action they took.

In his report published today, Mr Sheldon wrote there are at least 240 suspects and 692 survivors of sexual abuse within football.

However, the real figure is likely to be higher as most incidents of abuse are not reported, Mr Sheldon writes.

He found there was a “considerable amount of sexual abuse” suffered by young children playing the sport.

Mr Sheldon QC wrote: “The abuse shattered the trust that survivors had in the abuser, and in those with the responsibility in football to keep children safe.

“The abuse had a devastating impact on the lives of many of the survivors, as well as their families and loved ones.

“Survivors have described to me the suicide attempts, excessive alcohol or drug intake or dependency, periods of depression and other mental illness, failed relationships with partners and children, which they attribute to the sexual abuse they experienced as children.”

He added that while much of the media focus has been focused around the context of professional clubs, in the grassroots game, football was “one of several settings used by abusers to befriend and abuse young people”.

However, Mr Sheldon noted that the “overwhelming majority of young people engaged in the sport” were not abused and that the vast majority of coaches, scouts and others involved in the game were not abusers, but “carried out their work professionally and in the best interests of the young people in their care”.

The inquiry concludes that any abuse was carried out by individuals operating alone. Credit: PA

The review was commissioned by the FA in December 2016, shortly after former player Andy Woodward spoke out about how he had been abused at Crewe Alexandra by youth coach Barry Bennell.

The 710-page document looks at the historical sexual abuse carried out by notorious sex offenders such as former Manchester City coach Barry Bennell, along with Southampton coach Bob Higgins, QPR scout Chris Gieler, and Leicester City and Aston Villa coach Ted Langford.

Bennell was handed an additional four-year sentence in October last year on top of a 30-year term imposed in February 2018 for abusing boys.

Higgins was jailed for 24 years in 2019 for abusing 24 boys over a 25-year period both with Saints and Peterborough.

Heath’s conduct at Chelsea was the subject of a report by Charles Geekie QC in 2019 which the west London club published.

He worked with the Blues from 1968 to 1979, with Chelsea’s board saying his conduct was “beyond reprehensible”.

The Geekie report criticised Dario Gradi, an assistant coach at Chelsea at the time and who later served as manager of Crewe for 24 years, for not referring a complaint about Heath’s conduct to more senior members of staff at the club.

Bob Higgins has been jailed for more than 24 years.

Gradi told the Geekie report that the father of the boy did not want the complaint to “get Eddie Heath into trouble”, insisting he informed club management of the allegations.

“The fact that he (the father) didn’t want it to go any further, in other words, took the pressure off me as far as I was concerned,” Gradi is quoted as saying in the Geekie report.

“I think I probably would have tried to stand up for Eddie Heath a bit.”

When asked if he offered an apology, Gradi told the Geekie report: “No. What could I apologise for?”

The report makes at least 13 recommendations to help protect children in the future. This includes issues around safeguarding training for FA board members and coaches, parents, carers and players, as well as launching an online campaign to raise awareness surrounding the issues.

What's the response been to the report?

ITV News Sports Editor Steve Scott spoke to three survivors following the publication of the report on sexual abuse within football.

Dean Radford, a survivor of abuse from Bob Higgins while he a youth player at Southampton, said: “It’s been long awaited. I think its gone on a lot longer than anyone would have hoped for.

“I think we all hoped we would learn something we didn’t know already. From my personal point of view, the report doesn’t seem to hold anyone accountable, especially from the time period when my abuse happened.

“I think they made a statement saying there was no evidence that the FA could have known anything before 1995, but if I looked through the report for myself, Higgins was reported, incidents were reported in 1969 and through the ‘70s, so I can’t make any sense of that to be honest with you.”

Paul Stewart, who played professionally for Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, was a survivor of abuse from Frank Roper while at Blackpool.

He said: “I was never precious about the report. I never felt confident it would be as thorough as us as victims know what happened.”

He added: “Like Dean and the other survivors who might have been looking at this report hoping for closure, it’s going to disappoint them.

“I personally never put any weight to the report because it meant my abuser would have some hold of me still. I knew what happened to me as a child.”

David Eatock, a survivor of abuse from George Ormond at Newcastle United, said: “There are a couple of disappointing elements… But there are a lot of things in the report which does place blame on the club and place blame on the coaches at that time, so I do get a little bit of closure from that.”

Ian Ackley, a survivor of repeated abuse at the hands of Bennell and who until recently was part of a survivors’ panel assisting the review, said: “I’m not qualified or I’m not sure what value there is in me personally pointing the finger of blame.

“I think it’s important to identify what mistakes there were, what the gaps were, where we went wrong, what could be done better.

“For me I think the value is in today and tomorrow, and once we identify those things can we involve people with a lived experience in what we’re doing.

“The FA has made huge strides. They recognise wholeheartedly that it’s something that will never stop.

“The joined-up work is starting to happen, the FA definitely get it.”

In a statement, Peterborough United said: “Peterborough United fully co-operated with Clive Sheldon enquiry throughout the whole process and acknowledge the findings within the report that has been issued today.

“Safeguarding policies and understanding of safeguarding procedures to protect individuals have thankfully moved on considerably and the Club has all appropriate safeguarding measures in place which are the subject of continuous review.

“Peterborough United is extremely sorry to anyone who suffered abuse during their time at the football club. The club will be no making further comment at this time.”

Newcastle United said in a statement: "The Club would like to take the opportunity to express its sincere apologies and sympathy to all individuals affected by historic abuse in football and commend the bravery of those who have come forward and shared their stories.

"Newcastle United condemns any and all forms of abuse and shares a collective commitment to ensuring any lessons are learned so that football is safe for everyone."

The statement said the club had "fully cooperated with the investigative team" since the review was launched and says it not has "comprehensive and robust safeguarding measures in place to protect and support young people."

It added: "Upon receipt of Clive Sheldon QC’s full and final report today, the Club and its safeguarding team will take time to review and carefully consider its findings."

Key findings from the report:

  • Following high profile convictions of child sexual abusers in the summer of 1995 until May 2000, the FA could and should have done more to keep children safe

  • Between October 1995 and 2000 there was a significant delay by the FA in putting in place sufficient child protection measures in football

  • In that period, the FA did not do enough to keep children safe. This was an institutional failing by the FA, for which there is no excuse

  • At Chelsea FC, in relation to Eddie Heath, steps should have been taken to protect the young player who had made a disclosure about abuse from Eddie Heath’s sexual advances and misconduct in or around 1975.

  • Aston Villa FC 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 FC should have acted more quickly following disclosures of abuse by George Ormond at the Youth Club “Monty’s” in early 1997. Ormond was only removed from the Club many months later: in late 1997 or early 1998, and after Ormond had been permitted to travel abroad with young players. Despite being aware of the allegations no additional safeguards were put in place by the Club.

  • Manchester City FC senior management were aware of rumours and concerns about Barry Bennell’s conduct in the early 1980s. The Club did not investigate these rumours. It should have done so. The Club should also have investigated the arrangements for boys staying at Bennell’s house.

  • It is likely that three Directors of Crewe Alexandra FC discussed concerns about Bennell which hinted at his sexual interest in children. There is no evidence that the advice of a senior police officer to the Club’s former Chairman to keep a “watching brief” on Bennell was heeded. The Club should also have ensured that there were appropriate arrangements in place for boys staying overnight at Bennell’s house. The boys should have been spoken to periodically to check that they were being properly cared for. Had such steps been taken, this might have led to boys making disclosures to the Club.

  • Stoke City FC were also aware of rumours about Bennell during his time associated with the Club in the early 1990 and steps should have been taken to monitor Bennell’s activities.

  • Peterborough FC and Southampton FC were also aware of rumours about or inappropriate behaviour of Bob Higgins, and were aware that boys were staying at his home. This awareness should have resulted in greater monitoring by the clubs. Had Higgins been properly monitored this might have prevented some of his abuse of young players.