Sexual assault survivor calls for independent inquiry into abuse within cricket

A man who was sexually assaulted by a former Durham coach as a child has called for an independent inquiry into abuse within the sport, and revealed he has received no support from the England and Wales Cricket Board.

David, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was repeatedly abused by former Durham junior coach and scout Michael Strange while he was playing for a local cricket club.

Strange (pictured), 62, has been convicted on four separate occasions over the last decade of sexually abusing young players he coached. In 2015 he pleaded guilty to indecently assaulting David and was sentenced early the following year.

David is certain Strange will have abused others who have yet to come forward, and is convinced abusers like Strange will have been involved at other clubs elsewhere in the country.

The Football Association commissioned the independent Sheldon Review into historic sex abuse allegations after former players waived their anonymity to speak out about the abuse they had suffered at the hands of Barry Bennell, Bob Higgins and others.

The review was published in 2021 and identified institutional failings at the FA and within clubs, stating that warning signs were missed out of “ignorance and naivety”.

In 2017 the ECB opted against an independent inquiry, with independent ECB directors conducting a review instead. That was despite the fact that, by then, Strange had already been sentenced for repeatedly assaulting David, and had also been convicted in 2012 of abusing three other boys who had encountered Strange at another club.

The ECB has also never commissioned an independent review specifically focused on Strange.

David said: “I think it would be beneficial (to hold a Sheldon-style review).

“It is going to be worrying for people who have been involved to bring it all up again. I can quite confidently say there’s other people out there who’ve been a victim of Strange (who haven’t come forward yet).

“At the time he was a trustworthy coach, a proven coach, someone who young cricketers did look up to, very knowledgeable.

“If there’s just one positive that comes out of anything that’s found out, if one more victim has the courage to come forward and go to the police and get another conviction, someone who’s been having mental health problems from thinking every single day about what’s happened to them and not being able to speak.

“The publicity that could prompt someone to speak out is a better thing than not doing anything at all. Yes it’s going to have negatives, but if there are any positives at all out there, it’s better to look for them than hide away the negatives.”

Asked why he thought the ECB had not tackled it, he added: “Maybe they don’t know how to. They maybe don’t want to uproot any trauma that people have had for wanting to speak to them.

“They might be worried about things that they have done wrong, and that need to change. They might not know how to approach it. It is a delicate subject.”

David says he has never been contacted or offered support by Durham County Cricket Club, the Durham Cricket Board which is responsible for recreational cricket in the county, or the ECB.

“I can’t say I’ve been treated well or badly (by Durham or the ECB) because I haven’t been treated at all,” David told the PA news agency.

“I don’t want to think they should come running to me, but it would have been good if they could have offered an olive branch, just asking if I’m all right, do I want to speak to them, make contact. But they haven’t. So it’s one of those things.

“I’m a little bit disappointed, knowing that Durham know what Strange did to cricketers, knowing that Strange was involved with them as well as club cricket. It does disappoint me and upset me that they haven’t made more of an effort to try and reach out.”

David said Strange had started to take an increased interest in him when he was being bullied at the age of 14, sensing he was “vulnerable”.

Strange would telephone David to ask how he was, and to check he was alone. Strange began to offer him lifts alone, ask him questions about his sexual experience with girls and would show him pornography on a portable DVD player in his car.

David said the physical abuse happened on “multiple occasions”.

“I did once say I was going to tell people what he was doing to me. He told me that no one would believe me,” David said.

“Whether that’s because he was a Durham coach or a respected cricketer-coach (I don’t know). He put a lot of pressure on me to keep quiet.”

Strange pleaded guilty to four counts of indecent assault on a child and six of indecency with a child in David’s case and was sentenced to three years in prison. The sentencing judge, Edward Bindloss, told Strange: “The complainant trusted you, he confided in you, you knew he was both shy and vulnerable.

“Yours is a case of high culpability. There’s the gross breach of trust and manipulation, the disparity of age. This was predatory behaviour by you.”

David eventually came forward after reading about Strange’s first conviction in 2012 in the media. The same pattern was repeated in all the subsequent cases – survivors coming forward after reading media reports about the previous conviction.

Durham appear to have never spoken out about Strange or made an appeal for further survivors to come forward, despite Strange’s connection to the club and the county board’s duty of care to any grassroots players Strange abused. The county have been approached for comment.

Asked how helpful it would be, even now, for a high-profile individual connected to Durham like star player Ben Stokes or chairman Ian Botham to speak out, David said: “I think it would be massive, even if they came out now and say something, do some campaigning, some publicity.

“Because I believe this has happened at Durham, and no doubt at some point it’s happened at another county around the country. I don’t think it’s necessarily Durham that’s got to come out and do it, I think it’s got to be the England and Wales Cricket Board.

“I think it’s a national thing, not just what has been happening with Strange at Durham.”

David has struggled with mental health problems and alcohol abuse over the years since the abuse took place but does still play cricket, as do his children.

“It doesn’t get any easier – I think about it every single day,” he said.

“I’m more protective over my children, but in the same breath maybe a little bit too disciplined with my children. I don’t want them getting hurt like I did.

“I feel let down by the system. I struggle to trust people, and I don’t know whether I can get that back.”

An ECB spokesperson said: “We are deeply disturbed by the abuse ‘David’ suffered and the impact it has had on him since. No one should ever have to experience what he did.

“Following his arrest in 2005, the ECB imposed an interim suspension on Michael Strange from all cricket activity, and he was permanently disqualified from all cricket activity in April 2006.

“The ECB does not hold any information about the offences, which were dealt with by the police, for which Mr Strange was convicted post-2006 or of the identity of any victims.

“We are working with the statutory agencies to understand a detailed chronology in the intervening years to the extent those agencies are able to share information with us.

“Everyone should feel safe while playing cricket and safeguarding is a priority for the ECB. The ECB has executive and board leads for safeguarding and a dedicated safeguarding team which supports the network of trained safeguarding roles at all counties and clubs.

“In addition, a new Safeguarding Strategy is due to be published shortly which incorporates all of the recommendations from the Sheldon Report, most of which were already implemented or in progress prior to the Sheldon Report being published.

“It is vital that anyone who has any concerns or anything to report should feel confident and able to do so either via their club, County Safeguarding Officer, ECB Safeguarding team [[email protected]] or the NSPCC child protection helpline on 0808 800 5000.”

David’s motivation for speaking out again is to encourage other survivors of abuse to come forward.

“The hardest part is actually coming forward and speaking to someone,” he said.

“There are people out there to help you. The ones who aren’t prepared to help aren’t worth the time of day.

“There are more helpful people out there than there are negative people. It is a long journey, but personally for me – and I live with that life sentence every single day – to put (Strange) away meant a lot to me and did lift a little weight off my shoulders.”

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2022, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Northumbria Police.