Former Manchester City youth player calls for tougher legislation to prevent sexual abuse in sport

Abuse victim Gary Cliffe has called for tougher legislation to weed out those who use sport to target vulnerable people.

Cliffe (pictured) was sexually abused as a schoolboy by coach Barry Bennell, who is currently serving a 34-year prison sentence after targeting young footballers at Crewe and Manchester City between 1979 and 1991.

Now a detective working in safeguarding and child protection, the former City youth player wants a change in the law to make reporting of any complaints to a multi-agency body involving police, social care and education mandatory.

Cliffe was giving evidence to the House of Lords’ National Plan for Sport and Recreation Committee on Wednesday.

Asked by Lord Moynihan if there was a need for new legislation, Cliffe replied: “Yes, absolutely. I believe you need law change and strength of law and threat of non-compliance to focus people’s minds, to report thorny issues because particularly sexual abuse, nobody sees this.

“All you ever get is suspicion, whispers around the club, and where reputations are paramount and fees are paid, there’s a tendency to bury bad news, so a well-designed MR [mandatory reporting], to me, should protect the so-called whistle-blower and the coaches so that the appropriate authorities investigate.

“It may lead to collateral damage – I’ve been there myself – but unless we stick our heads in, we are not going to protect children and unfortunately if there is collateral damage, so be it because ultimately, we cannot have damaged kids and adults such as myself and numerous other lads that I know carrying that hurt.”

Referring to his own experience with reference to the Sheldon Report into non-recent allegations of sexual abuse in football, he added: “The responsibility of every person is safeguarding the child because failing to do that, as we’ve seen, is catastrophic for those children.

“Going through childhood and into adulthood, the effects of sexual abuse in particular – and all kinds of abuse – stay with you forever.

“I do believe the Government could go further with legislation in terms of mandatory reporting.

“I believe having read the Sheldon Report – all 710 pages of it – and having been there at the time with my abuser Barry Bennell, there were numerous opportunities and suspicions that were never raised, where the enforcement of law might focus the mind more and make it stronger, and an obligation to report those concerns.”

Cliffe, who also voiced his support for a national register of coaches, admitted safeguarding at elite level had improved dramatically, but that the potential for bullying amid the prevailing dressing room culture remained an issue.

And he made particular reference to social media – English football is staging a four-day boycott over the weekend amid mounting anger over online abuse – and the difficulties police face in investigating complaints.

He said: “It makes me furious as a cop as well, the hoops and bureaucracy we have to jump through to get those companies to engage when we have numerous daily reports of abuse.

“They need to be held to account. It’s dead simple. When you can go on and have an anonymous profile and spout a load of abuse – these companies are far superior at IT than any of us or any governing body or the police, they know exactly where that internet service provider is going into that home and they should be telling us and we should be rooting these people out through the courts or otherwise.”

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