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17th Mar 2021

The FA failed to protect children from sex offenders, inquiry finds

The FA was responsible for “institutional failures”, according to the report

The FA ‘failed to protect children from predatory sex offenders’, an independent inquiry from football’s governing body has found.

As reported by the Athletic’s Daniel Taylor, the FA’s report, overseen by Clive Sheldon QC, details across a 709-page document that the FA was responsible for “institutional failures” that allowed paedophiles to prey on young boys at a number of professional clubs.

Despite launching a programme between 1995-2000 to tackle the issue of sex abuse at football clubs, four years of investigation found that protecting children from such trauma was not an “urgent priority”.

“The FA acted far too slowly to introduce appropriate and sufficient child protection measures and to ensure that safeguarding was taken sufficiently seriously by those involved in the game,” Sheldon states.

“These are significant institutional failings for which there is no excuse. During this period the FA did not do enough to keep children safe.”

The FA is aware of 692 victims of sex abuse, but acknowledges that the real number is likely to be significantly higher.

Barry Bennell, former Manchester City and Crewe Alexandra coach, currently serving 36 years in prison for child sex crimes, was not banned by the FA even after being outed as a serial offender, Sheldon noted in his findings.

The report states that Manchester City must have been aware of rumours about Bennell, and that the club’s response was “inadequate even given the lack of knowledge around child safeguarding at the time”.

Just as damning for City is the finding of an internal investigation commissioned by the club that John Broome, a talent scout who managed a feeder team to City’s youth set-up, continued to abuse boys during the four-month period between his arrest and his conviction in 1970, while he was allowed to continue coaching.

That lack of action paved the way for Broome to become a referee in the Manchester area.

That internal investigation also found that City chiefs including chairman Peter Swales, chief scout Ken Barnes and director Chris Muir were “at least became aware of inappropriate behaviour by Bennell, such as keeping boys up late on trips and boys staying overnight at his house, and were aware of rumours about Bennell with a sexual connotation, and of his relationships with boys being inappropriate”.

The FA’s report found more clubs were involved that originally anticipated.

Manchester United informed the inquiry that a coach at the club had been involved in an inappropriate relationship with a 16-year-old female youth player and resigned before the matter escalated to a disciplinary hearing.

The inquiry also found that George Ormond, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for sexually abusing players in Newcastle United’s youth system, was allowed to travel abroad with youth players after an allegation had been made against him. The club did not remove him until many months after the first allegations.

Southampton could have done more to prevent Bob Higgins’ abuses, the report adds, had they investigated rumours of his behaviour more thoroughly. The club were aware of Higgins having young boys staying overnight at his house.

“To all of the victims and survivors of the child abuse carried out by Bob Higgins at Southampton in the 1970s and 1980s, we are deeply sorry,” said Southampton in a statement.

“For a professional football club not to prevent this abuse, or be able to provide support for anyone speaking up to report it, is inexcusable.”

Regarding solutions for the future, Sheldon’s report makes 13 recommendations to increase safeguarding, including an annual “National Day of Safeguarding in Football.”

The long term implications of these offences will be invisible to many but felt forever by the victims.