The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) recently published its quarterly statistics. Its thirteen investigations and research projects cover a wide range of themes and organisations but one which is missing is that of sport. Football in the UK, gymnastics in the USA are but two sports which have been significantly impacted this year by criminal trials in connection with non-recent sexual abuse. Notwithstanding the lack of any formal focus on sport by IICSA football is a focus for a number of its own inquiries.Last month, following a high profile trial Barry Bennell, the former Crewe Alexandra coach, who in 2016 was accused by former footballer Andy Woodward of allegations of non-recent sexual assault, thus leading to numerous other former players coming forward with similar allegations, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. The sentence related to 43 charges of sexual offences committed against 12 youth players from Manchester City and Crewe Alexandra between 1979 and 1991. He is said to have repeatedly abused boys, some up to 100 times, while promising to further their careers. Bennell has previously served two prison sentences in England and one in the US. Bennell is now facing complaints from another 86 former players and the CPS is to decide if a further trial would be in the public interest.
Bennell was associated with a number of clubs, most notably Crewe Alexandra in the 1980s and 1990s. He also had a close association with Manchester City, and was linked to a number of junior teams in Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire and Greater Manchester. He would scout boys across the North West and the Midlands and also ran summer holiday camps in the UK as well as youth football tours and soccer camps in the US.
Those clubs who are investigating non-recent allegations seem likely to find that the initial complaints made against Bennell are merely the tip of the iceberg. Manchester City are holding their own QC led inquiry and have identified another part-time scout and alleged paedophile, John Broome, who is now deceased. They do not believe that he was connected to Bennell.
Charlton, QPR. Chelsea and Southampton have all launched either their own internal inquiries or have been assisting the police with their investigations.
Crewe have been a particular focus of intense media interest. Bennell was seemingly sacked as their youth coach days after parents confronted him about his behaviour. The club have however declined to confirm to the BBC as to why he was sacked, previously stating that he left in January 1992 for football related reasons. Despite the pressure on Crewe to answer questions about what was or was not known it has somewhat surprisingly not launched its own investigation. It is hard to see however that it will not be a focus by the Football Association (FA) in its review.
The FA’s Review report, following the investigation led by Clive Sheldon QC, is currently awaited. In the last update it was noted that the reviewers were looking at some 6000 files, and they had or were in the process of interviewing 125 survivors and 75 other persons of interest. No date has been given for when that report will be produced. Meanwhile the Scottish Football Association has said it will publish its report in April or May.
With so many reviews and investigations it might seem that IICSA does not need to undertake its own investigation in to football. However as seen with its other investigations often the existence of earlier reviews provides the stimuli for a cross sector investigation. Sports organisations including football should expect they too will be come under the spotlight of IICSA.
Written by partner, David Milton.