In his report, Clive Sheldon finds that there were “significant failures for which there were no excuse” in the FA’s response to child protection issues between October 1995 and May 2000. Before that, Sheldon argues that although the FA “did nothing proactive” to address safeguarding and protect children from sexual abuse he did not consider the behaviour “blameworthy”. At the time, Sheldon argues, child abuse was wrongly seen as something that did not occur in sport.
This changed following the conviction of the Olympic swimming coach Paul Hickson in September 1995. At the same time Barry Bennell had been convicted in the United States of abusing a schoolboy player. From then, Sheldon argues, the FA should have acted, but moved “far too slowly to introduce appropriate and sufficient child protection measures”.
Sheldon blames a “number of interrelated reasons” for the delay. “Taken together,” he says, “they paint a picture of an institutional failure.” Key reasons were lack of insight and expertise. There was no strategic thinking about how to best deal with child protection. There was a lack of a champion for the issue at the top of the organisation where other matters, and a particular concentration on the needs of the professional game, took precedence. Finally, Sheldon writes, “the FA did not consider that football had experienced a ‘catastrophic’ incident of abuse which demanded a swift response”. Sheldon does not blame individuals for the failure, but the organisation as a whole.
The FA’s approach changed at the turn of the millennium, when it began to invest “considerable resources” in child protection and brought in outside expertise. “From May 2000, the FA had found its voice and was among those leading the national conversation about child protection in sport,” Sheldon writes. “The task was enormous, and the FA was rightly commended for the work that it did.” Even then, not enough support was given to the grassroots of the game.
Described by Sheldon as “a prolific paedophile who destroyed the lives and dreams of many of those entrusted to his care”, Bennell has been convicted of child sexual abuse on five occasions and is serving 34 years in prison for molesting and raping young boys. Sheldon interviewed 60 of his victims and is critical of Manchester City, the club Bennell worked at for the best part of a decade, stating their response to reports of Bennell’s behaviour was “inadequate”. He also finds that subsequent employers at Crewe and Stoke should have done more, though he rejects claims that the Crewe board ignored allegations of abuse. He does however state that he is “satisfied” that rumours about Bennell’s interest in children were circulating during his time at the club and “were heard by some of the club’s staff, including [the manager] Dario Gradi”. Of Stoke, Sheldon says: “Given … rumours, I consider that the Club should have ensured that Bennell’s activities … were monitored.”
Between 2018 and 2019, Higgins was convicted of 46 counts of sexual offences against children. Sheldon states that more than 100 people have reported allegations against Higgins to police, with his review having received 15 further accounts. Higgins worked for Crystal Palace, Southampton and Peterborough United. After leaving Southampton in 1990 he was charged with six counts of indecent assault but cleared. He was hired at Peterborough in August 1994, by Kit Carson. Sheldon says he found it “surprising” that other members of the club’s hierarchy were not aware of the charges against Higgins, and that there should have been greater monitoring by the club.
Edward ‘Ted’ Langford
Langford worked at Aston Villa for two periods in the 1980s and also at Leicester City. He was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment in 2007 for acts of indecent assault against four individuals and died in 2012. Langford’s periods at both clubs coincided with that of Dave Richardson, who went on to become director of youth development at the Premier League. There is, Sheldon writes, a “fundamental dispute” over claims made by a former player to Richardson about Langford and varying testimony from Richardson over the timing of other allegations which Sheldon says can be explained by unreliable memory of “what took place twenty or thirty years previously”. After sacking Langford, Villa should have notified police of any accusations, Sheldon says.
According to Queens Park Rangers, Gieler had “complete control” over their youth setup from 1979 until his departure in 2002. Sheldon says he has met with or read testimony from 12 individuals who allege they were sexually abused by Gieler. There is a record of only one complaint being made at the time. Followed up by the then chairman David Bulstrode, an investigation was conducted and concluded Gieler had no case to answer. “I do not know how thorough the investigation was,” Sheldon writes. “Nowadays, the Club would probably … subject the accused to more scrutiny. In the late 1980s, this was not the practice and would not have been expected.”
According to Sheldon: “Heath is alleged to have abused young players throughout his time in youth football, which spanned five professional football clubs from the mid-1950s until 1983. He was never investigated or prosecuted for the offences he is alleged to have committed.” One of those clubs, Chelsea, commissioned an independent report which found Heath had assaulted “at least 22 boys”. Sheldon reports one accusation by a youth player and the intercession of then assistant coach Gradi in response. Sheldon notes that “Heath’s abuse of young players at Chelsea continued after Dario Gradi was informed … of what had happened”.
Found guilty in 2002 of sexual offences against five boys and in 2018 of 35 counts of indecent assault and one of indecency, Ormond worked at Newcastle United in the 1980s and 90s in an “informal capacity” as a “gopher”, according to the club. Eleven individuals spoke to Sheldon about abuse they experienced at his hands between 1994 to 1998. His behaviour was exposed by the testimony of a player, Derek Bell, in the late 1990s. The date of his original testimony is disputed, but Sheldon observes that members of the youth team staff John Carver and John Murray allowed Ormond to go on a club trip to the Milk Cup youth tournament after having heard the allegations. “I consider that Ormond should not have been allowed to go on that trip,” Sheldon writes, adding, “before Ormond left the Club, but after the Milk Cup in 1997, a number of incidents of abuse appear to have taken place.”
Roper was convicted of the indecent assault of a child on four occasions in the 1960s and 80s. Throughout that time, Sheldon says, he had “close links” to Blackpool FC although there is no official documentation tying him to the club. “It is clear to me that Roper had substantial links to the Club, and that he used those links to give himself a credibility and authority that he would otherwise not have had,” Sheldon writes. He quotes the former England international Paul Stewart as saying he was sexually abused by Roper for four years. Sheldon says he is “satisfied” that club officials knew that Roper gave gifts and money to young players and would take them on trips abroad. Roper died in 2005.
Allegations against Carson came to light in 2007 while he was working for Cambridge United. He was suspended from coaching for a year by the FA and claims were investigated by police, though no further action was taken. Carson also worked for Norwich City, but most of the allegations against him are related to his eight years spent at Peterborough United. Sheldon finds there is no evidence that officials at either Norwich or Peterborough were made aware of allegations about Carson’s behaviour. There is evidence, however, that complaints about Carson were made to Higgins while he was working for Peterborough. On 7 January 2019, Carson was due to stand trial on charges of child sexual abuse but died in a car crash on the way to court. The coroner concluded that Carson’s death was by suicide.