The FA have been lambasted in a damning report about child sex abuse in football.
It accuses the governing body of an ‘institutional failing’, revealing that they ‘could have done more to keep children safe’ and saying the FA delayed introducing protection measures between 1995 and 2000 which left youngsters at risk.
The FA admitted it was a ‘dark day for the beautiful game’ as they were found to have failed to ban two serial paedophiles in the long-awaited, QC-led review which raises serious questions but does not accuse the FA of a cover-up.
And in a shocking development the FA — which offered a ‘heartfelt apology’ — confirmed that ex-Crewe manager Dario Gradi, who brought paedophile Barry Bennell to the club, remained banned from the game because he represents a potential risk to children.
A damning 710-page report says that the FA ‘should have taken steps to prevent Barry Bennell (pictured) from involving himself further in football’ following his release from prison in 2003
Crewe youth team coach Bennell (right) with first team boss Dario Gradi (left) in March 1989
The front page of Clive Sheldon QC’s explosive 710-page report, released on Wednesday
A number of clubs came under fire across 700 pages of the independent probe into child sexual abuse in football between 1970 and 2005.
Following reports of abuse from those brave enough to come forward, responses were ‘rarely competent or appropriate’, Clive Sheldon QC found.
The FA was ruled to have overseen an environment where ‘in general, child protection was not regarded as an urgent priority’, following the first convictions of offenders in 1995.
It is a finding that could open the door for compensation claims.
Sheldon, whose report took four years to produce, examined the cases of several paedophiles, including Bennell, who arrived at Crewe from Manchester City.
After Bennell, now back in prison, was released in 2003, the FA ‘should have taken steps to prevent him from involving himself further in football’, said Sheldon, who added: ‘The failure to do so allowed children to be put at potential risk.’
Sheldon disclosed that senior management at City were aware of rumours about Bennell’s conduct in the early 1980s but did not investigate and ‘should have done so’.
Sheldon’s (pictured) damning report has been released four years on from its commission
Ex-Crewe boss Gradi is another subject of the report, but there was no major criticism of the man whom is currently suspended from football and recruited Bennell at Gresty Road
He added that City should also have investigated the fact that boys stayed at Bennell’s house, where many of the attacks took place.
The QC found that it was ‘likely’ three Crewe directors discussed ‘concerns about Bennell which hinted at his sexual interest in children’ and there was no evidence that advice of a senior police officer to the club’s chairman to keep a ‘watching brief’ on Bennell was heeded.
The QC referenced sections of a witness statement Bennell gave in a civil case against Crewe in 2003.
He said a suggestion that nobody at the club knew or suspected sexual abuse was being perpetrated was ‘ridiculous’.
He added: ‘I cannot imagine why I was not told to stop in view of the complaints made.
‘That said, with what I know now, and the fact that Dario Gradi had many boys staying at his house, which I believe he continues to have, then it is not surprising at all.’
Gradi has denied knowing of Bennell’s actions. Sheldon, however, says: ‘I have decided that Bennell’s account cannot be relied upon.’
Eddie Heath (C), was employed by Chelsea from 1968 until he was sacked 11 years on, in 1979
FA chief executive Mark Bullingham apologised for a ‘gut-wrenching breach of trust’ on a ‘dark day for the beautiful game’, and was asked if Gradi remained banned. ‘Absolutely,’ he said.
When asked why, FA head of legal Polly Handford said: ‘Where someone is removed from football for safeguarding reasons, that will be because… that individual could potentially pose a risk of harm to children.’
Elsewhere, Chelsea were criticised for failing to protect a young player who had reported abuse by former scout Eddie Heath around 1975, while Aston Villa, then managed by Graham Taylor, ‘should have reported disclosures about sexual abuse by scout Ted Langford to the police when his role was terminated in July 1989’.
Bennell, who is currently in prison serving a fifth sentence for child sex abuse, pictured during his coaching career
Newcastle ‘should have acted more quickly’ after disclosures of abuse by coach George Ormond and Peterborough and Southampton were ‘aware of rumours about the inappropriate behaviour’ of ex-coach Bob Higgins, jailed for 24 years in 2019.
Sheldon said the FA should have reviewed Higgins’ case after an amendment to their disciplinary rules in 2003, which lowered the standard of proof, after concerns were raised about his continued involvement in the game in 2002.
They failed to do so and he carried out further abuse.
Sheldon called on the FA to make one of their board members a ‘children’s safeguarding champion’, and added that they should widen spot-checks and publish an annual safeguarding report.
Manchester City, Newcastle and Southampton issued apologies. No statement was forthcoming from Crewe.
The FA could now face a parliamentary inquiry.
Julian Knight MP, chair of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, said: ‘The FA have grave questions to answer about their past record and need to reassure parents about what they’re doing now to ensure children are being kept safe from predators.’
Mark Bullingham (left, chief executive of the FA) has apologised to the survivors in a lengthy statement, in which he also urged football to ‘learn lessons and never see repeat’ of the abuse
Gradi claimed later he was unaware he was suspended, said he loved working with children and added he would never do anything to harm them.
The Offside Trust, set up in the wake of the scandal, said of the report: ‘It’s like playing in the world’s longest tournament only to get to the final and be told the outcome had already been decided years ago; after more than 1,500 days of waiting, with survivors feeling at times that the issue was being kicked into the long grass.’
Ian Ackley, a Bennell victim, described the review as ‘diluted as a Vimto for a two-year-old’.
Dario Gradi ‘did not consider a person putting their hands down another’s trousers to be assault’, says review into child sexual abuse scandal in English football… but former Crewe manager ESCAPES major criticism in QC’s bombshell 710-page report
Dario Gradi ‘did not consider a person putting their hands down another’s trousers to be assault’, according to a new bombshell report into English football’s child sex abuse scandal.
A long-awaited 710-page review by Clive Sheldon QC was released on Wednesday, in which it was found that the Football Association put children at risk by failing to ban two serial predatory paedophiles.
While the report is damning, Gradi himself escapes major criticism – barring section 9.6.154, which quotes the former Crewe manager as not considering ‘a person putting their hands down another’s trousers’ as assault.
Gradi (pictured) allegedly tried to ‘smooth over’ allegations by a former Chelsea youth player that Eddie Heath, the club’s chief scout, had sexually assaulted him
The author of the report, Sheldon QC, interviewed Gradi in person, which he details in section nine and describes an incident which occurred during his time at Chelsea in the early 1970s with scout Eddie Heath.
One survivor, who is named only as ‘VS’ in the report, stated that ‘when he was in the pavilion at the Mitcham training ground, Heath grabbed him from behind and ‘ran his hands all over, caressing my chest under my shirt’. VS recalled Heath telling him, ‘Close your eyes and you wouldn’t know if this was a man or a woman.”
After receiving a complaint from the young player’s father, Gradi visited their home and recalled to Sheldon QC that the father ‘repeatedly said to him that he did not want to get Heath into trouble.’
According to Gradi, that ‘set the tone’ that he wasn’t going to take the incident further, but he understood it to have been ‘inappropriate’.
The conversation then turned to the ‘scope of allegations of abuse generally’, where Gradi made the claim about ‘putting hands down another’s trousers’ not being an assault. When Sheldon QC informed him that it was, he then accepted it.
Gradi has always denied any wrongdoing when he was spoken to about the child abuse cases
Gradi is currently suspended from football, and was the man who recruited Barry Bennell at Crewe. The report also includes sections of a witness statement Bennell gave in a civil proceedings case against the club in 2003.
In the statement, Bennell says that the suggestion that nobody at the club ‘knew or suspected that sexual abuse was being perpetrated is ridiculous’. He adds: ‘I cannot imagine why I was not told to stop in view of the complaints made. That said however, with what I know now, and the fact that Dario Gradi had many boys staying at his house which I believe he continues to have, then it is not surprising at all.’
Sheldon, however, says: ‘Ultimately, I have decided that Bennell’s account cannot be relied upon’. Gradi also told the inquiry that Bennell’s claims were false.