The Football Association ‘could have done more to keep children safe’, a damaging report into abuse within the sport has found.
English football’s governing body delayed introducing protection measures between 1995 and 2000 in an ‘institutional failing’ which left youngsters at risk – and failed to ban two serial predatory paedophiles from the game according to the much-awaited, QC-led review which raises serious questions but falls short of unearthing a cover-up.
Clubs have also come under fire across 700 pages of the independent probe into child sexual abuse in football between 1970 and 2005. Following reports of abuse, responses were ‘rarely competent of appropriate’, Clive Sheldon QC has found.
The report mentions that there are known to be at least 240 suspects and 692 survivors in the period covered in the inquiry ‘yet relatively few people reported abuse and the actual level is likely to be far higher’.
A damning 710-page report says that the FA ‘should have taken steps to prevent Barry Bennell (pictured) from involving himself further in football’ following his release from prison in 2003
Crewe youth team coach Bennell (right) with first team boss Dario Gradi (left) in March 1989
The front page of Clive Sheldon QC’s explosive 710-page report, released today
Elsewhere in the report, the FA is said to have displayed a ‘lack of strategic thinking, a lack of expertise’ in an environment where ‘in general child protection was not regarded as an urgent priority’ following the first convictions of offenders in 1995.
Sheldon, whose report has taken more than four years to come to fruition, examines the cases of a number of infamous paedophiles, including that of former Manchester City and Crewe coach Barry Bennell.
He says that after Bennell, currently back in prison, was released in 2003, the FA ‘should have taken steps to prevent him from involving himself further in football’. He adds: ‘the failure to do so allowed children to be put a potential risk’ although he does say there is no evidence that Bennell did seek to involve himself in the sport following his release.
Sheldon says that senior management at City were aware of rumours and concerns over Bennell’s conduct in the early 1980s but did not investigate and ‘should have done so’. He adds that City also should have investigated arrangements for boys staying at Bennell’s house, where many of the attacks took place.
Sheldon’s (pictured) damning report has been released four years on from its commission
Ex-Crewe boss Gradi is another subject of the report, but there was no major criticism of the man whom is currently suspended from football and recruited Bennell at Gresty Road
PREMIER LEAGUE STATEMENT
The Premier League is deeply saddened by the contents of Clive Sheldon QC’s Independent Review into Child Sexual Abuse in Football and our thoughts are with all those affected.
The League recognises the bravery and extraordinary courage shown by the victims and survivors who have come forward. We are sorry for the abuse and pain suffered and acknowledge the lasting impact this has had on all those who have been harmed and their loved ones.
Having considered the review – which relates to events between 1970 and 2005 – we accept the findings and insight it provides. The Premier League is committed to working in partnership with our clubs and their community organisations, The FA, statutory agencies and other key partners to address the conclusions and recommendations which will further strengthen safeguarding arrangements across the game.
The Premier League has long-standing rules in place which govern our clubs. We will continue to prioritise the implementation of robust and effective safeguarding measures to promote and protect the safety and welfare of children, young people and adults at risk. However, there is no room for complacency. We regularly assess our safeguarding arrangements. These reviews include independent scrutiny and take changes in legislation and statutory guidance into account as well as current best practice and learnings from reviews in and out of sport.
The QC has also found that it was ‘likely’ that three Crewe directors discussed ‘concerns about Bennell which hinted at his sexual interest in children’ and there is ‘no evidence advice of a senior police officer to the club’s chairman to keep a “watching brief” on Bennell was heeded’.
However, there is no major criticism of former manager Dario Gradi, who is currently suspended from football and whom recruited Bennell at Gresty Road. The report includes sections of a witness statement Bennell gave in a civil proceedings case against the club in 2003.
In the statement, Bennell says that the suggestion that nobody at the club ‘knew or suspected that sexual abuse was being perpetrated is ridiculous’. He adds: ‘I cannot imagine why I was not told to stop in view of the complaints made. That said however, with what I know now, and the fact that Dario Gradi had many boys staying at his house which I believe he continues to have, then it is not surprising at all.’ Sheldon, however, says: ‘Ultimately, I have decided that Bennell’s account cannot be relied upon’. Gradi also told the inquiry that Bennell’s claims were false.
Elsewhere, Chelsea are criticised for failing to take steps to protect a young player who had reported abuse by former scout Eddie Heath around 1975, while Aston Villa – then managed by Graham Taylor, ‘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 ‘should have acted more quickly’ following disclosures of abuse by coach George Ormond and Peterborough and Southampton ‘were aware of rumours about the inappropriate behaviour’ of ex-coach Bob Higgins, jailed for 24 years in 2019, and ‘were aware of boys staying at his home’.
On the matter of Higgins, Sheldon says the FA should have reviewed his case following an amendment to its disciplinary rules in 2003 which lowered the standard of proof following concerns raised by a County FA over his continued involvement in the game in 2002. ‘This was not done,’ he adds.
Sheldon concludes by setting out a list of recommendations. Within them, he calls on the FA to make one of its board members a ‘Children’s Safeguarding Champion’, adds that it should widen spot checks and publish an annual safeguarding report.
Chelsea are criticised for failing to protest a young player from ex-scout Eddie Heath (No 6)
Heath (centre), was employed by Chelsea from 1968 until he was sacked 11 years on, in 1979
He said: ‘I very much hope that this report will be read carefully by all persons involved in administering the game of football today, including the FA and the clubs who were associated with perpetrators of abuse. Understanding and acknowledging the appalling abuse suffered by young players in the period covered by the review is important for its own sake.
‘Survivors deserve to be listened to, and their suffering deserves to be properly recognised. As well as recognising and facing up to what happened in the past, it is also important that this terrible history is not repeated, and that everything possible is done now to safeguard the current and future generations of young players. I hope that this report will make some contribution towards that.’
The FA released a lengthy statement in response to the findings, in which they apologised to the survivors on a ‘dark day for the beautiful game’.
Bennell, who is currently in prison serving a fifth sentence for child sex abuse, pictured during his coaching career
Chief executive of the FA, Mark Bullingham, said: ‘I’d like to start by giving a heartfelt apology on behalf of the Football Association and the English game to all Survivors, that this happened to you within football. No child should ever have experienced the abuse you did.
‘What you went through was horrific and it is deeply upsetting that more was not done by the game at the time, to give you the protection you deserved.
‘There are consistent features in this review. Of bystanders who didn’t do anything. Of children that weren’t believed. Of the damage that has been caused.
‘There’s a famous quote that says: ‘For evil to flourish simply requires that good people do nothing’. There are too many examples of that throughout this report. There is no excuse.’
Bullingham went on to say that the survivors of child sexual abuse scandal ‘deserved to be heard and to be given answers, a long time before today,’ before claiming that it is ‘a critical moment’ for English football, continuing: ‘We must do everything we can to ensure that we learn the lessons, and never see a repeat of this abuse.’
Mark Bullingham (left, chief executive of the FA) has apologised to the survivors in a lengthy statement, in which he also urged football to ‘learn lessons and never see repeat’ of the abuse
Dario Gradi ‘did not consider a person putting their hands down another’s trousers to be assault’, says review into child sexual abuse scandal in English football… but former Crewe manager ESCAPES major criticism in QC’s bombshell 710-page report
Dario Gradi ‘did not consider a person putting their hands down another’s trousers to be assault’, according to a new bombshell report into English football’s child sex abuse scandal.
A long-awaited 710-page review by Clive Sheldon QC was released on Wednesday, in which it was found that the Football Association put children at risk by failing to ban two serial predatory paedophiles.
While the report is damning, Gradi himself escapes major criticism – barring section 9.6.154, which quotes the former Crewe manager as not considering ‘a person putting their hands down another’s trousers’ as assault.
Gradi (pictured) allegedly tried to ‘smooth over’ allegations by a former Chelsea youth player that Eddie Heath, the club’s chief scout, had sexually assaulted him
The author of the report, Sheldon QC, interviewed Gradi in person, which he details in section nine and describes an incident which occurred during his time at Chelsea in the early 1970s with scout Eddie Heath.
One survivor, who is named only as ‘VS’ in the report, stated that ‘when he was in the pavilion at the Mitcham training ground, Heath grabbed him from behind and “ran his hands all over, caressing my chest under my shirt”. VS recalled Heath telling him, “Close your eyes and you wouldn’t know if this was a man or a woman.”‘
After receiving a complaint from the young player’s father, Gradi visited their home and recalled to Sheldon QC that the father ‘repeatedly said to him that he did not want to get Heath into trouble.’
According to Gradi, that ‘set the tone’ that he wasn’t going to take the incident further, but he understood it to have been ‘inappropriate’.
The conversation then turned to the ‘scope of allegations of abuse generally’, where Gradi made the claim about ‘putting hands down another’s trousers’ not being an assault. When Sheldon QC informed him that it was, he then accepted it.
Gradi has always denied any wrongdoing when he was spoken to about the child abuse cases
Gradi is currently suspended from football, and was the man who recruited Barry Bennell at Crewe. The report also includes sections of a witness statement Bennell gave in a civil proceedings case against the club in 2003.
In the statement, Bennell says that the suggestion that nobody at the club ‘knew or suspected that sexual abuse was being perpetrated is ridiculous’. He adds: ‘I cannot imagine why I was not told to stop in view of the complaints made. That said however, with what I know now, and the fact that Dario Gradi had many boys staying at his house which I believe he continues to have, then it is not surprising at all.’
Sheldon, however, says: ‘Ultimately, I have decided that Bennell’s account cannot be relied upon’. Gradi also told the inquiry that Bennell’s claims were false.