John Bowler has stepped down from his role as Crewe Alexandra chairman following Clive Sheldon QC’s review into child abuse in football.
A number of the allegations centre on convicted paedophile Barry Bennell, who was a youth coach at both Crewe and Manchester City during the 1980s and 90s.
In light of the report, Crewe apologised to “every survivor of abuse” and expressed their regret at not learning of Bennell’s offences sooner.
Bowler, who became Crewe chairman in 1987 having joined the board in 1980, said it was always his intention to stand down following the conclusion of the Sheldon Review.
“As the only person left with an association to that era, I truly believe it was important for me to see it through to conclusion,” Bowler said in a statement.
“I am satisfied with the findings of the review that found that the club did not have any knowledge of Barry Bennell’s heinous crimes.
“I will always be deeply appalled and sorry that those young players and their families suffered at the hands of this evil predator. I personally and sincerely apologise to them all for their suffering.”
Sheldon concluded in his report that it was likely three Crewe directors discussed Bennell over concerns which hinted at his sexual interest in children.
It also found there is no evidence that advice from a senior police officer to keep a “watching brief” on Bennell was heeded.
The club were also criticised for not checking in with boys who were staying overnight at Bennell’s house.
“Had such steps been taken, this might have led to boys making disclosures to the club,” Sheldon wrote in his report.
Sheldon Report: The key points
- Four-year review published into child sexual abuse in football between 1970 and 2005
- Evidence from 62 survivors and 157 further individuals
- Clive Sheldon QC: “Survivors deserve to be listened to, and their suffering deserves to be properly recognised”
- Sheldon: “It is important that this terrible history is not repeated”
- FA “did not act appropriately” following Barry Bennell’s release from prison in 2003
- Historical failures identified involving Chelsea, Aston Villa, Newcastle, Manchester City, Crewe Alexandra, Stoke, Peterborough, and Southampton
- By August 2020, Operation Hydrant had identified 240 suspects and 692 survivors
- Sheldon: “I do not want to give the impression that abuse in football was commonplace. It was not”
- Report makes 13 recommendations, including publishing safeguarding report every year
Bowler said a board shake-up would help the club move forward, adding the League One side would welcome “future recommendations” that come from the review.
“Crewe Alexandra is a community based club with good people. I apologise to all our supporters that the name of the club has been tarnished,” Bowler added.
“I have worked on the formation of a new board and know they will do all they can to move the club forward.
“Our Academy remains one of the finest in the country and we have every confidence in our safeguarding policies and procedures.
“There is always room for improvement and as a club will welcome the future recommendations of The Sheldon Review.”
‘Strip Gradi of his MBE’ – The Offside Trust
FA chief executive Mark Bullingham, who called the report a “dark day for football”, last week said former Crewe manager and director of football Dario Gradi, who was in charge of the club during Bennell’s time there, has been “effectively banned for life” by the FA.
Gradi was suspended in 2016 by the FA pending an investigation into claims he “smoothed over” a complaint of sexual assault against Chelsea scout Eddie Heath when he was assistant manager at the London club in the 1970s.
The Sheldon report said that Gradi “should have done more” to help investigate rumours about Bennell, but there was “no evidence” that he had “acted inappropriately”.
However, Bullingham confirmed that Gradi’s suspension had not been lifted since first being put in place in 2016, and will not be in the future.
“Dario Gradi is banned from football,” Bullingham said. “Now that, unfortunately, I can’t go into further details on. There are a number of reasons why someone might be banned from football, but just to say that he is and will remain so.
“Effectively he’s banned for life”
The Offside Trust, an organisation founded and run by survivors of child sexual abuse in sport, has called for more action to be taken.
It has asked the Cabinet Office to strip Gradi of his MBE and added: “We will be making similar requests to the Professional Footballers’ Association and Football Hall of Fame to revoke any other honours.”
Historical failures were also identified at a number of other clubs, including Chelsea, Aston Villa, Newcastle, Stoke, Peterborough, and Southampton.
The report highlighted numerous examples where clubs linked to abusers had heard rumours or received complaints and failed to handle them properly.
In all, the review said data passed to it by Operation Hydrant in August 2020 had identified 240 suspects and 692 survivors.
There were also apologies issued in statements from the Premier League and English Football League, while Manchester City released the findings of a report of their own.
City issued a statement to “apologise publicly and unreservedly” to those who were abused by three individuals named in their own report, commissioned in 2016 and carried out by Jane Mulcahy QC.
The report found that the club’s response to allegations concerning Bennell, John Broome and Bill Toner was “wholly inadequate” in its failure to investigate fully or inform the police.
If you need further information on child abuse, sexual abuse or exploitation, for either you or someone close to you, please see the list of organisations listed in the child abuse section on this page: https://www.sky.com/help/articles/viewersupport