Football Association chief executive Mark Bullingham has offered a “heartfelt apology” to survivors of child sexual abuse in football after fully accepting an independent review that found the organisation did not do enough to keep children safe between 1995 and 2000.
The four-year review, which resulted in a 707-page report being published by Clive Sheldon QC on Wednesday, described the FA as having “significant institutional failings for which there is no excuse”.
Sixty-two survivors of abuse and 157 further individuals gave evidence to the investigation, which looked at how the FA, clubs, and individuals handled reports of abuse at the time.
Responding to the report, Bullingham said it was a “dark day for the beautiful game”, that there had been a “gut-wrenching breach of trust”, and that the FA had “no excuse” for its failings. He also added that the organisation accepts and supports Sheldon’s recommendations in full and vowed to continue to improve its safeguarding practices.
“You have the deepest admiration of the FA. Your bravery throughout this process has been incredible. Your voices have been so powerful,” said Bullingham, addressing the survivors in a statement.
“I’d like to start by giving a heartfelt apology on behalf of the Football Association and the English game to all survivors, that this happened to you within football. No child should ever have experienced the abuse you did.
“What you went through was horrific and it is deeply upsetting that more was not done by the game at the time, to give you the protection you deserved.”
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
‘Report will ensure the game will never forget’
The report concluded that while “there is no evidence the FA knew that there was a serious or systemic problem of child sexual abuse within the game in England” prior to 1995, the governing body “did not do enough to keep children safe”.
Bullingham added: “I am proud to lead the FA and know the positive impact that football can have throughout the country. Getting people active, learning the power of teamwork, and having fun together. As a youth team coach, I see that impact every week.
“However, today is a dark day for the beautiful game. One in which we must acknowledge the mistakes of the past and ensure that we do everything possible to prevent them being repeated.
“Earlier today, Clive Sheldon QC published his independent report into allegations of non-recent child sexual abuse in football. This report is a very important piece of work and was commissioned by the FA after survivors bravely came forward in November 2016.
“I’ve had the privilege of meeting some survivors, whose courage is inspirational and whose stories are incredibly moving.
“They will never forget what has happened to them, and this report will now ensure the game will never forget either.”
Good has come from this bravery – FA chief
Bullingham admitted the report made sobering reading and offered “no excuse” for inaction at the time.
“There are consistent features in this review. Of bystanders who didn’t do anything. Of children that weren’t believed. Of the damage that has been caused,” he said.
“There’s a famous quote that says: ‘For evil to flourish simply requires that good people do nothing’. There are too many examples of that throughout this report. There is no excuse.
“While we recognise how courageous it was for you to come forward, it’s important to recognise that good has come from this bravery.
“You have been trailblazers in shining a spotlight on the horrifying abuse that you suffered while playing the game you loved. Without your testimonies, we would not have this understanding, and I would personally like to thank you all for your involvement, contributions and your honesty.
“Most importantly, detailing these crimes and the manipulative behaviour behind them, will help to ensure that abuse is less likely to happen in the future.”
Premier League and EFL issue apologies
A number of the allegations centre on convicted paedophile Barry Bennell, who was a youth coach at both Crewe Alexandra and Manchester City during the 1980s and 90s.
The report concluded the FA “did not act appropriately” following Bennell’s release from prison in 2003, and cited the fact no measures were put in place to stop him from returning to football.
While the report found no evidence he had returned to the sport after his release, the FA’s failure to monitor it “allowed children to be put at potential risk”.
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.
The Premier League and English Football League both issued apologies and reiterated their commitment to improving safeguarding with the sport.
A Premier League statement said: “The League recognises the bravery and extraordinary courage shown by the victims and survivors who have come forward. We are sorry for the abuse and pain suffered and acknowledge the lasting impact this has had on all those who have been harmed and their loved ones.”
The EFL said: “Football should be a safe environment for any participant, yet sadly these experiences and testimonies demonstrate that this was not the case for the survivors, who bravely came forward to give accounts of how individuals within the game heinously abused the positions that they held. The EFL is extremely sorry for the abuse and pain that survivors suffered throughout.”
Man City release club review
Several of the clubs implicated of having made historical failures by the report responded with apologies, 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.
City’s statement read: “In addition to the personal apologies that have been made, the club’s board of directors wishes to apologise publicly and unreservedly for the unimaginable suffering experienced by those who were abused as a result of the club’s association with these men.
“No one can remove the suffering of those who have experienced sexual abuse as children as a result of their involvement with football.
“They were entitled to expect full protection from the kind of harm they endured.”
Southampton released a statement on Tuesday, before the release of the report, apologising to survivors of abuse at the club carried out by Bob Higgins, who was jailed for 24 years in 2019 for sexually touching trainees in the 1970s and 1980s.
The club said it was “deeply sorry” for the “considerable failings that allowed this abuse to start and continue for such a long period of time”.
League One Peterborough, where Higgins also committed crimes as a youth coach, issued a short statement in which they said they were “extremely sorry” to anyone affected by the club’s part in the abuse scandal.
Newcastle expressed their “sincere apologies and sympathy” to survivors and expressed a “collective commitment” to respond to the findings of the review.
The Magpies were one of eight clubs to be directly accused of failings, relating to how the club handled complaints about George Ormond, a coach who worked with their youth teams.
Stoke City, who never formerly employed Bennell but have conducted a review of their own in light of their “association” with him in the early 1990s, “welcomed” the report but did not issue an apology.
A spokesperson for the club said: “This is a very serious matter and one that Stoke City has taken and continues to take very seriously.
“We will review the findings of the report carefully and fully consider all recommendations and learnings from it against our current policies, procedures and training programmes to ensure that Stoke City is operating according to best practice.”
For further information about 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 Sky’s Viewer Support page.