Wednesday 25 April 2018

Bennell is just the tip of the iceberg

Andy Woodward, a previous victim of Barry Bennell, and his partner Zelda speak to the media outside Liverpool Crown Court. Photo: PA
Andy Woodward, a previous victim of Barry Bennell, and his partner Zelda speak to the media outside Liverpool Crown Court. Photo: PA

Sam Wallace

For those 12 victims of Barry Bennell who saw their abuser convicted on Thursday it may well be a life-changing step forward, although in terms of the historic sexual abuse that runs through every echelon of English football, it would be right to say the game has barely got started.

There are 86 more men accusing Bennell alone. There are two more criminal cases against other men this year, and the most recent numbers for Operation Hydrant, the multi-police-force investigation into non-recent sexual abuse, are vast. They number 839 victims and 294 suspects across 334 clubs. All of them with the potential for lives broken and repercussions for families that will never be forgotten

For Bennell's victims, those who have seen him found guilty for abusing them, and the others who will have their day in court in the future, there is the hope of seeing justice done. For those whose abusers are dead there is less certainty. It is these cases that police forces will leave to the FA's own inquiry to reconcile as well as those inquiries led by the clubs themselves. There can be no criminal case but there remains the possibility of major civil actions against clubs running into millions of pounds.

The potentially huge cost facing clubs is not just for those such as Chelsea and Manchester City with the means to meet the bills for compensation and legal costs. One would like to believe that all clubs will seek at all times to do the right thing, even when the abusers are dead and the abused continue to try to deal with a traumatic childhood in football.

To some extent those victims will hope to rely on the FA inquiry into non-recent child sexual abuse in football led by Clive Sheldon QC, which in its terms of reference promises to look at, among other steps, the potential "failings" of the FA. There is no explicit promise to examine the clubs' "failings" although there is a pledge to "extend its scope" based on what it finds. The period under review is 1970 to 2005, the cut-off point based on a belief that safeguarding measures were sufficiently robust by then - an assumption that some regard as rather too arbitrary.

For the victims of abusers who have since died, there is a moral obligation for clubs to be open about their own findings. Manchester City have done so in their statement last week, which unilaterally named the late John Broome as another individual about whom serious allegations of child sex abuse have been made. The club have promised a "more comprehensive and public position in the future" on what its inquiry discovers.

There are deceased with allegations of abuse against them who have connections with a number of clubs including Chelsea, QPR, Aston Villa and Blackpool among others. Dino Nocivelli, a lawyer at London law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp, represents victims from a range of clubs including some abused by Bennell and others where the accused is dead, and he says that the actions of the clubs will be instructive.

"From the civil law side of it, if the abuser has died and the estate has been distributed, the club could still be held responsible if they [abusers] inflicted the abuse during the course of their employment and it was closely connected to the same. Similar to what happened in allegations relating to Jimmy Savile, the cases would be based on similar fact evidence. If a number of people are saying the same thing and they do not know each other and/or have never discussed their abuse with each other then it would be argued that it is more likely than not that the abuse took place.

"This is an important way for some survivors of childhood sexual abuse to get justice and closure. Without this sadly they are left with no recourse and no accountability for what they have suffered.

"Will the clubs who have conducted internal inquiries be prepared to divulge what they have found? We have seen it in the past where big corporations have admitted to making mistakes but when are the reports ever published in a fully transparent manner?"

Chelsea's inquiry into the allegations against former scout Eddie Heath, who died in the 1980s, is also QC-led. Having apologised for agreeing a confidentiality clause with one of Heath's victims, Gary Johnson, the club suggested in December 2016 that it would be open. "We certainly have no desire to hide any historical abuse we uncover from view," they said in a statement. "Quite the opposite."

Its own inquiry is not yet complete and the club are currently unable to say what will be published.

QPR's youth development officer from the late 1970s until around 2000, Chris Gieler, also now dead, has been accused of sexual abuse of boys, and the club say that they "continue to work with police and the FA in relation to several allegations of non-recent sexual abuse allegations". The club have been unable to say whether they have been pursuing their own inquiry.

The late Manchester scout Frank Roper, who knew Bennell and who was responsible for abusing Paul Stewart, the former England international, is connected to Blackpool, who say they have contributed to the FA inquiry. Blackpool say that to the best of their knowledge they never employed Roper directly. Aston Villa employed Ted Langford, who died in 2012, and who has already been named as an abuser, as a part-time scout.

"There are football clubs that have a lot to answer for," Nocivelli says, "and if they don't provide those answers and soon, we will have to assume that it will be down to individuals to pursue them."

The cost to some of these clubs could be huge, although it hardly needs saying that their obligation to their victims should be their only guiding principle.

Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk

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