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Survivors to hear findings of independent review into historical sexual abuse

Barry Bennell court case
(Image credit: Peter Byrne)

The Football Association is set to publish the findings and recommendations of an independent review into historical sexual abuse within the sport later today.

The review conducted by Clive Sheldon QC has spoken to abuse survivors and survivor groups and will examine what, if anything, the FA, clubs and individuals knew about reports of abuse between 1970 and 2005 and what action they took.

The review was commissioned by the FA in December 2016, shortly after former player Andy Woodward spoke out about how he had been abused at Crewe by youth coach Barry Bennell.

Barry Bennell exploited his position as a youth football coach to repeatedly abuse children

Barry Bennell exploited his position as a youth football coach to repeatedly abuse children (PA)

Bennell was handed an additional four-year sentence in October last year on top of a 30-year term imposed in February 2018 for abusing boys.

The review is also set to look at the handling of other cases, including those of former Southampton youth coach Bob Higgins and Chelsea’s Eddie Heath.

Higgins was jailed for 24 years in 2019 for abusing 24 boys over a 25-year period both with Saints and Peterborough.

Heath’s conduct at Chelsea was the subject of a report by Charles Geekie QC in 2019 which the west London club published.

He worked with the Blues from 1968 to 1979, with Chelsea’s board saying his conduct was “beyond reprehensible”.

The Geekie report criticised Dario Gradi, an assistant coach at Chelsea at the time and who later served as manager of Crewe for 24 years, for not referring a complaint about Heath’s conduct to more senior members of staff at the club.

Dario Gradi was criticised in a report about non-recent sexual abuse at Chelsea which was published in 2019

Dario Gradi was criticised in a report about non-recent sexual abuse at Chelsea which was published in 2019 (PA)

Gradi told the Geekie report that the father of the boy did not want the complaint to “get Eddie Heath into trouble”, insisting he informed club management of the allegations.

“The fact that he (the father) didn’t want it to go any further, in other words, took the pressure off me as far as I was concerned,” Gradi is quoted as saying in the Geekie report.

“I think I probably would have tried to stand up for Eddie Heath a bit.”

When asked if he offered an apology, Gradi told the Geekie report: “No. What could I apologise for?”

Gradi also contributed to the Sheldon Review.

The review is expected to also offer new safeguarding recommendations.

Ian Ackley, a survivor of repeated abuse at the hands of Bennell and who until recently was part of a survivors’ panel assisting the review, said: “I’m not qualified or I’m not sure what value there is in me personally pointing the finger of blame.

“I think it’s important to identify what mistakes there were, what the gaps were, where we went wrong, what could be done better.

“For me I think the value is in today and tomorrow, and once we identify those things can we involve people with a lived experience in what we’re doing.

“The FA has made huge strides. They recognise wholeheartedly that it’s something that will never stop.

“The joined-up work is starting to happen, the FA definitely get it.”