London (AFP) – England manager Gareth Southgate said football must learn from past errors in child safeguarding as Crewe apologised for not doing more to spot warning signs about the behaviour of serial abuser Barry Bennell.
An independent review of historical sexual abuse on Wednesday found the English Football Association guilty of inexcusable “institutional failings” in delaying the implementation of child safeguarding measures following high-profile convictions.
The review by Clive Sheldon QC was commissioned by the FA in 2016, shortly after former player Andy Woodward spoke out about how he had been abused at Crewe by youth coach Bennell.
Bennell, who had been convicted in the United States in 1995, was handed an additional four-year sentence in October 2020 on top of a 30-year term imposed in February 2018 for abusing boys.
Asked for his thoughts on the review, Southgate made it clear football authorities and clubs must not repeat the same mistakes again.
“I think it’s a hugely serious area. First and foremost my thoughts go to the lads that were brave in coming forward some while ago now and standing up and bringing this case even more to light than it was,” he said.
“As was stated yesterday, everybody’s got to reflect on a period of history where things were different and were done differently and not with the level of care that every child that plays sport deserves.
“I think there was recognition of errors that have been made in the past, which was important to acknowledge.”
While progress had been made since 2000, the FA admitted it was “unacceptable that the correct protocols were not in place before then”.
“We are in a different place now. To retain my coaching licence I have to go through a lot of safeguarding checks and everybody within the game would be the same,” Southgate added.
“But we must never be complacent about that area because unfortunately, events or activities that involve children sometimes attract the wrong sort of people.”
The Sheldon review concluded that former Crewe manager and director of football Dario Gradi “should have done more” to investigate or escalate reports and rumours of abuse by Bennell.
Crewe, currently in English football’s third tier, responded by issuing an apology for failing to act on potential warning signs about Bennell’s actions.
“The club acknowledges the findings of Mr Sheldon QC that, notwithstanding the club may still not have got to the truth of any matters at that time, more could have been done to monitor the situation concerning Mr Bennell,” a statement said.
“The club is truly sorry if there were in fact any warning signs that ought to have led the club to do more.
“Had the club had any suspicion or belief that Mr Bennell was committing acts of abuse, either before, during or after he left the club’s employment, the club would have informed the police immediately.”
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