London (AFP) – The sex abuse scandal that has rocked English football’s foundations has seen new revelations every day since they first surfaced a fortnight ago.
Here AFP Sports takes a look at what we know so far:
At least seven youth coaches or scouts — three of whom are now dead — have been accused of sexual abuse, although the National Police Chiefs Council revealed on Friday there are 83 potential suspects. Two of those still alive — former Crewe Alexandra youth coach Barry Bennell, who has served three jail terms for sex offences, and Northern Irishman Jim McCafferty, who served as kitman and a scout at Celtic — have been charged. Bennell, who also had links with Manchester City, Stoke and Leeds, was found unconscious in a hotel near London before being charged with eight counts of sex abuse whilst McCafferty spoke to the Irish Mirror as he wanted to ‘cleanse his soul’ before walking into a police station where he was subsequently charged although with non-football linked offences committed in Ulster.
Chelsea and Saints in eye of the storm
Some of the biggest names in English football such as Chelsea and Manchester City figure among the 98 clubs from all levels the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) say have been ‘impacted’. The present Chelsea regime has attracted a welter of criticism for paying compensation to former youth player Gary Johnson — who was abused by ex-Chelsea scout Eddie Heath in the 1970s when the club was under different ownership — but with a gagging order attached in 2015. He broke that condition to go public and the club issued a statement ‘apologising profusely’ for his suffering. Another Premier League club who are in the sights of former players is Southampton. Around a dozen have claimed they were abused by former youth coach Bob Higgins with some taking legal action against the Saints. Higgins was found not guilty of sex abuse in 1992. Three years earlier, police and social services issued a joint letter warning he was dangerous to children. He has yet to comment.
Number of victims
The number of victims, according to the NPCC, still stands at around 350 although that figure could well rise as ‘Operation Hydrant’ — the overall investigation into historic sex abuse covering all walks of life — sifts through the allegations, “with processes to determine if the referral relates to a victim or a witness and whether the information received is new or a duplication of information already received”.
Present FA chairman Greg Clarke doesn’t believe so although he admits people may have preferred to turn a blind eye to the rumours. The FA do not emerge well from the 1997 Channel Four documentary exposing sex abuse in football dismissing the allegations with a ‘no comment’. However, four years later they launched a review into child protection at football clubs led by an eminent specialist, Professor Celia Brackenbridge. Meant to last four years it was abruptly halted in 2003. The researchers criticised the clubs’ attitude and added the clubs were at loggerheads with the FA over the ‘importance of the issue’. Clarke, who has only been in the job for a few months, has launched a review headed by an eminent lawyer to uncover how much the FA knew about the allegations raised down the years in what he has described as being the biggest crisis in English football that he could recall.
Investigations grow as scandal widens
Aside from the FA review, such is the breadth of the scandal that 21 of the United Kingdom’s 45 territorial police forces are holding investigations. The NPCC said on Friday every call or allegation was being acted upon as quickly as possible but given the number of claims not all could be dealt with immediately. “As the number of calls being received across the service is higher than usual, it may take longer than normal for an officer from a local force to make contact to follow up from the initial call,” they said.
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