Sheldon Review highlights institutional failings in the football child sexual abuse scandal

Line marking on a football field

The FA have published Clive Sheldon QC’s independent report into allegations of non-recent child sexual abuse in football. 

Mr Sheldon’s report found “significant institutional failings by the Football Association which meant it “did not do enough to keep children safe”.  The FA was also criticised for being “too slow” to have sufficient protective measures in place between October 1995 and May 2000.

The long-awaited report, which was commissioned by the FA in 2016, covered a wide period of time between 1970 and 2005 and heard from many survivors of abuse as well as reviewing evidence from the police, researchers, a number of clubs and those in charge of the sport.  The report refers to at least 240 suspects and 692 survivors but recognises that the actual level is likely to be far higher.

The key findings are:-

  • Following convictions of abusers from the summer of 1995 until May 2000, the FA “could and should have done more to keep children safe”
  • The FA “did not do enough” to keep children safe and “child protection was not regarded as an urgent priority”.
  • There was a significant delay by the FA in putting in place sufficient child protection measures
  • Even following the FA’s launch of a comprehensive child protection policy in May 2000 “mistakes were still made” by the FA
  • The FA failed to ban Barry Bennell and Bob Higgins from being involved in football
  • Clubs’ responses to reports of abuse “rarely competent or appropriate”.

The Report dealt specifically with the following offenders of sexual abuse

  • Barry Bennell – former Crewe Alexander and Manchester City coach
  • George Osmond – former Newcastle United coach
  • Eddie Heath – former chief scout at Chelsea
  • Bob Higgins – former coach at Southampton and Peterborough United
  • Michael “Kit” Carson – former coach of Peterborough United, Cambridge United and Norwich City
  • Ted Langford – former scout at Aston Villa and Leicester City
  • Frank Roper – a scout from the north west of England, who recruited players to Blackpool’s centre of excellence
  • Phil Edwards – former Watford physio

The Report makes a number of recommendations which includes the introduction of safeguarding training at several levels in the game and safeguarding officers employed by all Premier League and English Football League clubs.

As head of the child abuse claim team at Enable Law I’ve represented a number of survivors who were abused whilst playing for professional football clubs. The report raises some important issues about what the clubs and FA knew at the time abuse was taking place.  Based on the evidence in this Report the abuse it is clear that some of the children could and should have been prevented.

I hope that the FA and clubs at all levels reflect on this report, accept Mr Sheldon’s findings and ensure that his recommendations are put in place.  I would also encourage other sports to read the report and recognise that the issues raised are not specific to football.

For some survivors this report could raise more questions and show that that their plight is not over.  Not all have got justice and many have unanswered questions.  Whilst representing survivors I have seen first hand the impact when clubs continue to deny that abuse took place, deny that they were responsible for the actions of the abuser or say that the allegations have been brought to long after the abuse for any case to be heard.  I would hope that this report will allow the clubs to recognise their role and the importance of reparative justice.

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