alleged activities of convicted paedophile Barry Bennell. Photograph: BBC
Daniel Taylor, Guardian
Leeds United and Blackpool are the latest football clubs to be engulfed by allegations of child sexual abuse within the sport, according to the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association.
Gordon Taylor said a number of former players had come forward to say they had been abused by staff at the two clubs as well as at Crewe, Manchester City, Stoke and Newcastle.
“Of those who became apprentices and senior players, over 20 players have come forward,” he said. “We’d start at Crewe, go to Man City, Stoke, Blackpool, Newcastle, Leeds.
“I’m expecting there will be more. I can’t believe it’s just going to be in the north-west and north-east. We need to be mindful this could be throughout the country in the same way it’s been in other professions where children are there – in the church, in schools.”
Football’s governing body has been forced to launch an independent investigation into the escalating scandal, vowing to determine how a suspected paedophile ring was allowed to prey on youth players.
The Football Association recruited an independent QC to oversee an internal review after former players came forward to claim they were abused by coaches and trainers.
The Guardian is aware of many others from junior teams who have done the same and the FA has acknowledged its initial investigation could eventually lead to a full-scale inquiry into the sport.
The review will seek to establish how much information was available at the time about the alleged activities of Barry Bennell, the convicted paedophile at the centre of the scandal.
Andy Woodward and Steve Walters, former players at Crewe Alexandra, waived their anonymity to tell the Guardian that they had been sexually abused when Bennell was running the club’s youth system.
Bennell, now 62, has served three prison sentences totalling 15 years for multiple offences involving Crewe and various other teams, but there are growing fears that he was colluding with at least one other paedophile.
The FA’s hotline, set up with the NSPCC and described as “a safe space for any further whistleblowing”, has received more than 100 calls.
Taylor suggested that some of the issues his organisation had encountered with players suffering from mental health issues could be linked to the crimes of Bennell and others.
“We’ve had issues of depression and, of course, issues that caused suicides – some of what might be coming out might help explain that as well,” he said.
Many of the players who have already come forward have voiced similar fears. The FA said it was now looking at how the system allowed Bennell to get away with it for so long and whether the two clubs where he had the strongest links, Crewe and Manchester City, ought to have done more to investigate allegations about his behaviour.
“The internal review will look into what information the FA was aware of at the relevant times … what clubs were aware of, and what action was or should have been taken,” a statement read.
“The FA has instructed independent leading counsel Kate Gallafent QC to assist it with a review into the abuse cases which have recently come to light. At this time, with acknowledgement that a wide-ranging inquiry may be required in time, we are working closely with the police to support their lead investigations and must ensure we do not do anything to interfere with, or jeopardise, the criminal process.”
Edward Timpson, MP for Crewe and Nantwich, said: “The players that have broken their silence to speak out about the abuse they suffered have shown immense courage. No one must ever feel they can’t or shouldn’t be able to do the same. It’s now important to understand what happened and why, and let all those affected know that they don’t need to be alone.”
Bennell started coaching in 1970 and worked with numerous teams in Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire before serving his first prison sentence in 1994 in Florida, having molested a British boy on a tour.
Ben Rumsby Robert Mendick, chief reporter, The Telegraph
Chelsea may have broken Premier League rules by sanctioning a secret payment to an unnamed former youth-team footballer who had accused the club’s ex-chief scout of sexual abuse, The Daily Telegraph can disclose. English football was on Wednesday evening reeling from the latest revelations in the scandal over paedophile coaches, exclusively detailed by The Telegraph on Tuesday, into which Roman Abramovich’s league leaders were dragged.
Separately, it has emerged that Chelsea’s accused ex-scout, Eddie Heath, trained Barry Bennell, the youth coach charged this week with indecent assault, though there is no suggestion that he was a victim or even aware of allegations against Heath.
It has also emerged the club may have breached rules about the reporting of allegations of sexual abuse when they made a payment to an alleged victim of Heath who came forward following the Jimmy Savile scandal.
Under Premier League regulations, teams are obliged to notify the league and the Football Association of any evidence they obtain of child abuse.
The FA did not respond to requests for comment on whether it had been notified, while Chelsea said they were “unable to comment further beyond the statement we issued last night”.
That statement read: “Chelsea Football Club has retained an external law firm to carry out an investigation concerning an individual employed by the club in the 1970s, who is now deceased. “The club has also contacted the FA to ensure that all possible assistance is provided as part of their wider investigation. This will include providing the FA with any relevant information arising out of the club’s investigation.”
Chelsea were revealed to have sanctioned a payment to an alleged abuse victim shortly after the chairman of the FA branded the practice of buying the silence of victims as “morally repugnant”.
Urging anyone with allegations clubs had paid off victims of paedophile coaches to “come forward” during an internal review being conducted by the governing body, he added: “If anyone has behaved improperly, they will be held to account and that information will be released.
“The FA will not be part of any cover-up. If a club has behaved badly, they will be held to account.” The potential scale of the crisis was laid bare last night when it emerged that 14 police forces were now investigating allegations and the NSPCC revealed its football abuse hotline had received 800 calls in the week since it was launched. The charity said its helpline staff made 60 referrals to the police and other agencies during the first three days, over three times more than during the 2012 Savile scandal.
Much Worse than Savile
The NSPCC made more than three times as many referrals to the police for child sex abuse after opening a hotline dedicated to the football abuse scandal than it did in the wake of the Jimmy Savile case. The charity has already taken more than 850 calls from victims of abuse in youth football.
In the first three days alone, the NSPCC made 60 referrals to police and other children’s services across the country. After the Savile phone line was opened, the charity made 17 referrals in the same timeframe.
The figures come just days after it was revealed that police forces around the country are already aware of allegations of sexual assault across multiple sports. Yesterday, three more forces confirmed that they had received allegations of historical child sex abuse in football, taking the overall tally to 12.
Essex, North Yorkshire and North Wales police all confirmed on Wednesday that they are investigation claims made to them since the hotline was set up, with Dorset, Staffordshire, Greater Manchester, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire, Cheshire, Northumbria, Scotland Yard and Police Scotland already investigating allegations of abuse. The latest figures show that, in total, police have received 250 reports of sexual abuse in football.
More than 20 former players have spoken about the alleged abuse, with ex-Newcastle United footballer Derek Bell revealing yesterday that he decided to try to kill his former youth coach, George Ormond, over 20 years after he groomed and abused Bell between the ages of 12 and 16 while he played for the Montagu and North Fenham boys football club.
Derek Bell attempted murder, suicide
“I went to his [Ormond’s] house with a 12in knife hidden in my pocket, and I kicked his door in,” Mr Bell told BBC Radio 5 Live, having spotted Ormond in the grounds of a hostel while working for a housing department in Newcastle.
“Luckily for him, that evening, he wasn't in. I told my friends at that point because I’d kept it a secret for a lot of years.
“I went and told my close friends, who've been absolutely incredibly supportive, and told them what had happened to me, and they said ‘Right, let's do something about it’, but I said ‘No, I'll do something about it’.”
Ormond was jailed for six years in 2002 after being found guilty of a string of sexual offences on young boys.
The public revelations have come after former Crewe Alexandra footballer Andy Woodward told The Guardian that he was one of the victims abused by the convicted paedophile Barry Bennell. Bennell was charged on Tuesday with eight counts of sexual abuse on a boy under the age of 14.
Bell, who played for Newcastle in the early 1980s, says Ormond subjected him to "horrific, horrific" abuse on "hundreds" of occasions.
After going round to Ormond's house with a knife, Bell returned "a couple of days later" with a hidden tape recorder in an attempt to expose his crimes.
He added: "I just asked him the questions 'Why, why, why?' What was his motivation to find a need to constantly abuse me, threaten me, bribe me, befriend my family?
"And not one time did he say he was sorry. He just said 'I don't know why'. His main aim was 'you're not going to tell the police, are you?'"
Bell added that the effects of the abuse led him to attempt to take his own life on three occasions and be sectioned until the Mental Health Act.
"I've come forward to raise awareness and help victims who are coming forward," he said.
"I've been through the court system, I've been through different things, so if I can give people help and support... be brave, don't be ashamed."
Bless you, Derek, may God help heal you completely.