English football sexual abuse scandal

The English football sexual abuse scandal began in mid November 2016 when former professional footballers waived their rights to anonymity and talked publicly about child sexual abuse by former football coaches in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Echoing similar revelations in the 1990s, the initial 2016 allegations centred on abuse of young players at Crewe Alexandra and Manchester City due to the clubs' associations with Barry Bennell (convicted of sexual abuse offences in the US in 1994 and in the UK in 1998 and 2015). Subsequent allegations included a former Newcastle United youth coach George Ormond (imprisoned in 2002 for offences against young footballers in the area) and a former scout, Eddie Heath, at Chelsea, plus allegations that both clubs tried to cover-up the abuse. Allegations of abuse at Southampton were also made. By 1 December 2016, in response to allegations from 350 individuals, the FA, several football clubs and 17 police forces had established various enquiries and investigations; 55 professional and non-league clubs had been cited by people claiming they were abused.

Alleged abusers

Barry Bennell

On 16 November 2016, former Crewe defender Andy Woodward alleged that he had been the victim of child sexual abuse by former football coach Barry Bennell at the club in the 1980s.[1][2][3] The club was slow to respond to the Woodward allegations,[4] with club chairman John Bowler making a statement on 21 November, by which time it was reported that six other people had contacted the police.[5]

On 22 November, The Guardian alleged that Crewe team mate Steve Walters had been another of Bennell's victims,[6] while Woodward criticised Crewe for failing to apologise.[7] On 24 November, Dario Gradi, manager at Crewe during the early 1980s, released a statement saying he knew nothing of Bennell's crimes until Bennell was arrested in the United States in 1994.[8][9] Danny Murphy, another ex-Crewe academy graduate and team-mate of Woodward and Walters, told the London Evening Standard that if Gradi "had known what Barry Bennell had been doing, he would have put a stop to it.”[10]

On 23 November, former Manchester City players David White and Paul Stewart made similar sex abuse allegations about Bennell,[11] and about another coach[12] (later named as Frank Roper) at the Nova feeder club.[13] Cheshire police said they had been contacted by 11 people (including Walters, but excluding White and Stewart) regarding the Bennell case.[14] On 25 November, two further youth players, Jason Dunford[15] and Chris Unsworth, also alleged sexual abuse by Bennell, initially at a Manchester City nursery team[16] (Dunford also later spoke of abuse by Frank Roper).[13] On 27 November, another former Crewe player, Anthony Hughes, revealed that he too had been abused by Bennell.[17]

Doubt regarding Crewe claims of ignorance emerged on 25 November. Hamilton Smith, a director at Crewe Alexandra from 1986 to 1990 told the Guardian that the club heard an allegation that Bennell had sexually abused a junior footballer. However, Bennell was allowed to stay at the club - despite the then chairman, Norman Rowlinson, recommending that the club "get him out" and raising concerns with Manchester City - so long as Bennell was not left alone with boys and was stopped from arranging overnight stays.[18] Smith said fellow directors did not want to rely on hearsay evidence and local gossip. In 2001 Smith met Tony Pickerin, the Football Association’s head of education and child protection and requested an FA investigation into the care of children at Gresty Road. He later received a three-line letter from Pickerin saying the FA had “investigated the issues and is satisfied that there is no case to answer.”[18]

Bennell background

Bennell had worked for at least four English professional clubs: Manchester City, Crewe (from around 1984 until he was sacked in 1992 for reasons that have never been made public), Stoke City and Leeds United,[19] and from 1992 to 1994 was head coach of the Staffordshire side Stone Dominoes.[20] During a 1994 Dominoes tour to the United States, a 13-year-old club player claimed that Bennell had sexually abused him. Bennell was arrested in Jacksonville, Florida and eventually charged on six counts of sexual battery and lewd and lascivious behaviour. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years imprisonment.[19]

In the meantime, in 1996, a UK Channel 4 Dispatches programme highlighted child abuse allegations involving Barry Bennell (also another coach, Keith Ketley in Ipswich). The documentary featured Ian Ackley, a former player at Derbyshire youth side White Knowl, who was one of four boys who had come forward to British police after Bennell's US arrest.[21][22] As a result, although Bennell did not serve the full term of imprisonment in America, he was arrested again on his return to England.[19]

In February 1998, Bennell appeared at Mold Crown Court in north Wales and pleaded not guilty to charges of indecent assault, buggery and attempted buggery dating back to the 1970s and 1980s through to 1992, against children aged between nine and 15, with offences alleged to have taken place in Derbyshire, the Crewe area and at Butlin's in Pwllheli, north Wales. Bennell was remanded in custody to appear at Chester Crown Court in June 1998.[23] At Chester, Bennell was found guilty of 23 offences against six boys (including Ian Ackley),[24] and received a nine-year jail sentence (a further 22 offences were left on file because the Crown Prosecution Service decided it was better not to put young boys through the trauma of a trial).[20] In May 2015, Bennell (now known as 'Richard Jones' and living in Milton Keynes) received a further sentence of two years after pleading guilty to sexually abusing another boy at a camp in Macclesfield in 1980.[9][25][26]

At the inquest in 2012 into the death of Gary Speed, it was alleged that Speed and former Manchester United player Alan Davies had been "favourites" of Bennell, though there was no suggestion they had been abused by Bennell.[27] Both players later took their own lives.

2016 charges

Police were seen at Bennell's Milton Keynes address,[14] though Thames Valley Police said this was "in response to a safeguarding concern" and it was not investigating any offences.[28] Bennell was taken to hospital in Stevenage after being found unconscious in Knebworth Park on Friday 25 November; Thames Valley police said officers had been called to a “fear for welfare” incident. It was believed Bennell was staying at a hotel after leaving his Milton Keynes home as the scandal broke.[29] On 29 November 2016, 62-year-old Bennell was charged with eight counts of sexual assault against a boy aged under 14, alleged to have taken place between 1981 and 1985.[30] Bennell is due to appear at South Cheshire magistrates court on 14 December.[31]

George Ormond

On 24 November 2016, The Guardian reported that an anonymous ex-footballer had contacted police to say he was a victim of George Ormond,[32] a former Newcastle United youth coach who was jailed in December 2002 for offences against young footballers in the area.[33] On 29 November 2016, The Guardian reported allegations by Derek Bell that he had been abused by George Ormond at the Montagu and North Fenham boys football club in the 1970s.[34] Bell later played for Newcastle United (1980-1984) and on 1 December accused Newcastle of a cover-up over the abuse allegations.[35] Bell claimed he alerted the club in 1998 but although Ormond's employment ended, his conduct was not investigated or reported to the police until 2001.[35] The Guardian also reported allegations about Ormond from David Eatock, who signed for Newcastle as an 18-year-old in 1995.[36]

Ormond background

Ormond was described by a judge in 2002 as a "predatory abuser" after he was convicted of 12 indecent assaults and one attempted indecent assault on seven boys which had taken place between 1975 and 1999.[33]

Eddie Heath

On 29 November 2016, Chelsea announced it was investigating allegations of historical sexual abuse in the 1970s, including a secret payment to a former player who had accused the club’s ex-chief scout Eddie Heath of child sexual abuse.[37][38][39][40][41] On 2 December, the former player was named as Gary Johnson, who said he was paid £50,000 not to go public with allegations that he was sexually abused by Heath;[42] the following day, Chelsea apologised "profusely" to Johnson.[43] Also on 3 December, The Independent reported a Chelsea youth player's allegation that Dario Gradi, then Chelsea's assistant manager, visited the player's family's home to "smooth over" a complaint of sexual assault against Heath in 1974.[44] Former Chelsea youth goalkeeper Derek Richardson became the third player to allege abuse by Heath.[45] On 4 December, Heath was the subject of allegations of early 1980s abuse made by a former youth player Russell Davy, at another London club, Charlton Athletic.[46]

Heath background

Now deceased, Heath was employed at Leyton Orient (former goalkeeper Peter Chapman described him as "the dark eminence of Orient's youth outfit")[47] in the 1950s and 1960s before joining Chelsea.[40] In 1979, he contested his dismissal from Chelsea by then manager Geoff Hurst at an industrial tribunal.[40]

Other abusers

By early December, allegations of abuse were reported from grassroots to professional club levels, involving 55 clubs.[48] These ranged from the Stockport-based Nova feeder club run by Frank Roper[13] (also associated with Blackpool)[49] to Southampton, where former players Dean Radford and Jamie Webb told the BBC about incidents they said happened when they were in their teens.[50] By 3 December, four players had alleged abuse by an ex-Southampton employee who was said to be still working in football.[51]

Response and investigations

Football bodies

On 21 November, the Football Association said it was setting up a helpline;[5] this was established with the NSPCC and opened on 24 November,[52] reportedly receiving over 50 calls within the first two hours,[16] over 100 by 27 November,[53] and 860 ("more than three times as many referrals as in the first three days of the Jimmy Savile scandal") by 1 December[54] with 350 individuals alleging abuse.[55] The FA and NSPCC also collaborated to produce a film about how to keep children safe in the sport, featuring the captains of England's men's, women's and cerebral palsy football teams (Wayne Rooney, Steph Houghton and Jack Rutter).[56]

After the Hamilton Smith interview suggesting the FA failed to thoroughly investigate Crewe's system, on 27 November, the FA announced it was to set up an internal review, led by independent counsel Kate Gallafent QC, into what Crewe and Manchester City knew about Barry Bennell and allegations of child sexual abuse in football, and investigate what information it was aware of at the time of the alleged offences.[57]

The FA was criticised by Conservative MP Damian Collins, chair of the House of Commons' Culture, Media and Sport Committee, for being too slow in reacting and not instigating a wider review.[58] Former sport minister Gerry Sutcliffe talked of previous concern about how the FA dealt with governance of the sport and with youth development (in 2003, the FA had scrapped a project meant to ensure children were being protected from sexual abuse),[59] saying an independent body, such as the Department for Culture, Media and Sport should look at the issue rather than the FA investigating itself: "What I've seen in football over the years is that they're very narrow, very insular, and may not do a proper job even though with the right intentions."[51]

The Professional Footballers' Association said on 24 November 2016 that the number of players who had contacted it with similar stories had reached double figures,[52] later (27 November) revising this to "more than 20"[17] and adding Blackpool and Leeds United to the list of clubs implicated.[60]

Abuse victims Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and Chris Unsworth launched a support organisation, the Offside Trust, to support players victims of abuse and their families.[51]

Football clubs

Dario Gradi's 24 November statement mentioned Crewe Alexandra had established an internal review,[8] and the club subsequently announced it would be holding an independent review into how they dealt with historical child sex abuse allegations: "an independent review, to be conducted via the appointment of external legal counsel, is the correct way forward".[17][61] Manchester City said it had opened an investigation regarding Bennell's association with the club in the 1980s.[16] Stoke said they were ready to launch an investigation into any allegation raised.[19] On 25 November, Northumbria Police said their inquiries were "ongoing", while Newcastle United said it would cooperate with the police and relevant authorities.[62] On 29 November, Chelsea announced it had appointed a law firm to carry out an investigation connected to allegations of historical sexual abuse in the 1970s.[38] In total, by 3 December 2016, 55 professional and non-league clubs had been cited by people claiming they were abused.[48]


Cheshire police were reported to be liaising with Greater Manchester Police over the allegations,[62] with the Manchester force later confirming it was launching an investigation and co-operating with Operation Hydrant, the national co-ordination hub for historical child abuse investigations concerning persons of public prominence.[29] On 26 November Hampshire Police said it was looking into claims of "non-recent child abuse within the football community", while the Metropolitan Police also opened investigations.[63] By 1 December, Staffordshire Police, Police Scotland,[37] Essex Police and Norfolk Police[64][41] were reported to be among 17 forces examining claims of historical sex abuse in football.[55]


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