Report: The Independent Review into Child Sexual Abuse in Football 1970-2005 – Clive Sheldon QC

Hundreds of children’s lives were ruined by abuse over the course of three and a half decades as warning signs were missed out of “ignorance and naivety”, an independent review has concluded.

The Football Association, the Premier League and the EFL have apologised to survivors and thanked them for their bravery in speaking out about the horrors they endured at the hands of abusers, some of whom had connections to professional clubs.

The FA was found to be guilty of an inexcusable “institutional failing” for delaying the implementation of child protection measures in the period between the autumn of 1995 and the spring of 2000.

In all, the report from Clive Sheldon QC said at least 240 suspects had been identified along with 692 survivors, but he believed the number of instances of abuse was actually far higher because a great deal of it has not been reported.

The key questions and answers from the Sheldon report

What is the background to the report?

The Football Association commissioned Clive Sheldon QC to conduct a review in December 2016 of how abuse complaints made between 1970 and 2005 were handled. It followed Andy Woodward waiving his anonymity to speak publicly about the extent of abuse perpetrated by Barry Bennell, which prompted an avalanche of further complaints about Bennell and other individuals.

What were the key conclusions?

It found that the FA, on the back of high-profile abuse convictions in the summer of 1995, including Bennell’s first sentencing in the United States, should have introduced improved safeguarding measures but failed to do so until May 2000.

That was an “institutional failing” on the FA’s part. It said there were also mistakes made in the period after 2000, including the failure to monitor Bennell on his release from prison in 2003, after his first UK conviction.

How did the authorities react?

The FA, Premier League and EFL have all issued statements of apology following the publication of the report. FA chief executive Mark Bullingham called the scandal a “gut-wrenching breach of trust”.

What about the clubs?

A host of clubs were criticised for not acting or investigating rumours and concerns about coaches connected to them.

“There was often a feeling that without ‘concrete evidence’ or a specific allegation from a child nothing could, or should, be done, and so there was a reluctance to investigate or monitor, let alone confront the perpetrator and interfere with his actions,” Sheldon said.

What was the scope of the report?

Sheldon said there were at least 240 known suspects and 692 survivors but that he suspected there would be many more unreported instances of abuse.

He did state though that, in his view, abuse was not commonplace and that the “overwhelming majority” of children engaged positively with the sport during this period.

Did the report make recommendations for improvements?

Yes, 13 of them, all accepted in full by the FA. They include such things as an annual report on safeguarding, for the 92 Premier League and EFL clubs to have a safeguarding officer either on a full or part-time basis and to ensure spot-checks on grassroots football are reviewed annually.

What did abuse survivors say?

Ian Ackley, who was raped hundreds of times by Bennell between 1979 and 1983 and who works as survivors’ support advocate for the Professional Footballers’ Association, said the recommendations were as “dilute as Vimto for two-year-olds” and criticised the fact it contained nothing about independent external oversight of the FA’s safeguarding activities.

Survivors’ charity the Offside Trust said it was “disappointing” that there was nothing stronger on mandatory reporting – where any suspicion of abuse is passed onto Government authorities.

Are things better now?

Bullingham believes the FA’s safeguarding procedures are now “industry-leading” but warned: “Threats to children still exist in society. We urge parents and carers to be aware of today’s risks – particularly in the online space.

“This report should serve as a reminder of the importance for everyone to be aware of current risks. It is clear that child sexual abusers are both manipulative and calculating, and they will adapt their methods over time.

“We too must adapt and be eternally vigilant, to prevent abuse in any form, in any part of society. We owe that both to the survivors of abuse and to future generations.”

Click here to download the full report.