Child abuse inquiry finds no FA conspiracy or paedophile ring

Ben Rumsby
·4 min read
Barry Bennell 
Barry Bennell

The report into whether English football’s child sexual abuse scandal was covered up has found no evidence of an institutional conspiracy or paedophile ring in the game, Telegraph Sport can reveal.

As disclosed by Telegraph Sport, the Football Association is planning to release the findings of the independent review into the game’s worst scandal on Wednesday, more than four years after it was launched.

Telegraph Sport has been told the report by Clive Sheldon QC is critical of those who did not alert police to abuse suffered by aspiring footballers at the hands of Barry Bennell and other paedophile coaches between the 1970s and mid-2000s.

It is also said to have found the FA was slow to combat the problem upon becoming aware of the potential scale of it and to raise questions about whether its current safeguarding policies are adequate.

Among the report’s recommendations was said to be that online training should be offered to parents to help stop their children – and themselves – being groomed and abused and to identify the signs when that is happening.

Its findings are expected to trigger an apology from the FA but they are unlikely to lead to anyone being sanctioned, with there having been no rules in place covering a failure to blow the whistle on child abuse for most of the period involved. Controversially, there also remains no legal obligation for it to be escalated to the police.

The report, a presentation on which was given to the FA board last week, was said to run to around 900 pages and focus on interviews conducted with survivors, whistle-blowers and current and former football officials.

Clubs whose actions are said to come under intense scrutiny include Manchester City, Chelsea, Aston Villa, Leicester City, Newcastle United, Southampton, Stoke City, Queens Park Rangers, Crewe Alexandra, Blackpool and Peterborough United.

The same was said to apply to those accused of covering up abuse by the report including Dario Gradi, the former Crewe manager and director of football, and Graham Taylor, the ex-England manager who died of a heart attack before allegations against him emerged.

A QC-led review commissioned by Chelsea found in 2019 that Gradi had missed an opportunity to prevent abuse committed by serial offender Eddie Heath following the way he handled a complaint about the club’s former chief scout. Gradi has denied there was a cover-up.

The Sheldon review, meanwhile, heard claims Taylor had been involved in a cover-up at Aston Villa that led to other boys being exposed to a paedophile later convicted of a string of offences.

Telegraph Sport has been told a copy of Sheldon’s report will be provided to survivors and survivor groups on Wednesday morning before being made public at lunchtime.

Sheldon had originally hoped to deliver it to the FA in 2018 but – to the frustration of abuse survivors – it was announced he would delay doing so to avoid prejudicing fresh criminal prosecutions of Bennell and Bob Higgins.

It was further announced in August that this had also enabled him to make contact with more survivors. Sheldon then wrote in December to all survivors and survivor groups to have engaged with his review promising to complete his work as soon as possible.

The report’s timing coincides with the imminent transmission of a three-part BBC series examining English football’s child abuse scandal, Football’s Darkest Secret, which begins on Monday.

An official trailer released last week revealed it would feature contributions from the likes of Andy Woodward, whose 2016 revelation that he had been a victim of Bennell triggered an avalanche of similar stories that prompted the launch of the review.

It also sparked a surge in complaints and referrals to the police about abuse in football, with the most recent figures stating more than 2,800 had been received up to and including March 2018.

The indicative number of victims at that stage stood at almost 850, 95 per cent of which were male and the age range for which was between four and 20.

There were 300 alleged suspects identified and 340 football clubs impacted.

The Sheldon review will also be published before the appointment of a new FA chair, with Telegraph Sport having been told the shortlist for the role is now down to three candidates, one of which was said to be Debbie Hewitt, the former chief executive of the RAC.

The FA and a spokesman for the inquiry declined to comment.