Sport Soccer

Thursday 20 July 2017

Gag clauses to be examined as part of review into historic sex abuse allegations

All 65,000 FA member clubs have been contacted by the independent review into historic child sex abuse
All 65,000 FA member clubs have been contacted by the independent review into historic child sex abuse

Clauses which gagged abuse victims will be scrutinised as part of the Football Association-commissioned independent review into allegations of historic sex abuse.

Chelsea last December apologised to former striker Gary Johnson, who was sexually abused while a youth-team player at the London club in the 1970s.

Johnson claimed he was paid £50,000 in 2015 not to go public with allegations that he was sexually abused by Chelsea's former chief scout Eddie Heath, who died before the claims were made.

Chelsea commissioned an external review to determine the club's response to the allegations and why they were not reported to the Football Association and Premier League. This review is ongoing.

The FA-commissioned independent review, led by Clive Sheldon QC, will look at any steps taken by clubs in relation to child sex abuse, its terms of reference show.

The review is seeking to establish what the national governing body knew of abuse and what action it took.

In December it was claimed the organisation was warned in prior decades about potentially inappropriate conduct towards young players.

The full scale of the review, which covers 1970 to 2005, encompasses the full English game and the FA has not assigned a budget to the process, Press Association Sport understands.

All 65,000 FA member clubs - from Premier League to grassroots and the women's game - have been contacted by Sheldon for information.

And legal specialists are sorting through 5,000 boxes of FA documents stored in a warehouse to see which are relevant to child protection and safeguarding. The indexing of many older documents in the storage facility is poor.

Each box contains up to 1,000 pages, but some fewer, and many of the potential five million pages will not merit closer examination.

It is hoped Sheldon will report his findings to the FA in early 2018, although it is too early to determine an exact time-frame. The final report is likely to have to wait until ongoing criminal proceedings have concluded.

The lawyer is working closely with Operation Hydrant, the police-led investigation set up to coordinate the investigation of non-recent child sexual abuse. Any potential criminal offence uncovered will be referred to the police.

The review is looking at the role of officials from clubs involved in abuse claims who also held positions with the FA at the time and whether there was a coordinated network in operation.

The investigation is also taking into account possible wrongdoing in girls' football.

So far Sheldon has experienced no obstruction from clubs or officials, but if he does, he would report it to the FA, which could impose a range of possible sanctions.

The review is now at the investigation stage, which involves searching for evidence and speaking to victims and experts on child protection issues.

Sheldon has made contact with The Offside Trust, set up in the wake of testimony from former players Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and others last autumn to provide support to other victims.

Sheldon's team is seeking to establish the historical context to help in the assessment of any action taken by the FA, such as when contemporaneous incidents of child abuse were reported and prosecuted in other sports.

For example, did the FA tighten its procedures when Olympic swimming coach Paul Hickson was in 1995 jailed for 17 years for sex attacks?

The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) is carrying out an independent audit of the FA's current practices to assess standards.

The NSPCC's child protection in sport unit has worked with the FA since 2000 and the audit is part of ongoing work.

It will not consider historical matters, but Sheldon will make recommendations if he identifies any in the current system from his review.

Press Association

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