Victims may be 'as young as four'

Police investigating allegations of sexual abuse in English football say victims may have been as young as four years old.
Police investigating allegations of sexual abuse in English football say victims may have been as young as four years old.PHOTO: REUTERS

Probe into child abuse scandal reveals 429 likely victims, 155 suspects and 148 clubs

LONDON • Police investigating allegations of sexual abuse in English football say victims may have been as young as four years old and that detectives are examining possible attacks on 429 people.

The figures released on Wednesday by police chiefs in England show that 155 potential suspects have been identified and that 148 clubs, at all levels of the game, have been affected, from the Premier League to amateur clubs.

The allegations being investigated by police span over five decades, from the 1960s to 2000s, and involve 20 police forces.

The complaints to police came after The Guardian revelations about child sexual abuse in the national game. The level of allegations and the range of clubs affected make this one of the biggest scandals in modern football.

It also adds to the workload facing police tackling a rising tide of reporting of historical sexual abuse.

The latest figures came from the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC), which said some claims relate to other sports but that the vast majority concern football.

A national sexual abuse investigation called Operation Hydrant is co-ordinating, avoiding duplication and ensuring that information about potential offenders and victims is shared across the 43 forces in England and Wales.

Police say they have received a total of 819 referrals, with 605 coming from a special hotline set up by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and 214 from police forces.

Some of those relate to witnesses, not victims, and some had already been received by police from other people calling in.

Police said 98 per cent of the victims were male and added: "The age range for potential victims at the time of the abuse spans four years through to 20 years."

The NPCC lead for child protection, chief constable Simon Bailey, said: "We are ensuring an efficient and effective service-wide approach to investigating allegations, removing the potential for duplication and enabling the timely and effective sharing of intelligence and information between forces.

"We are also liaising closely with the Football Association (FA) to ensure all relevant information they hold is shared to inform investigations moving forward."

Four former players - Ian Ackley, Derek Bell, Paul Stewart and David White - who were abused by youth coaches, met FA chairman Greg Clarke at Wembley on Tuesday.

White wrote on Twitter that the FA was now "showing a true duty of care to victims and to the current and future safeguarding of kids".

However, Andy Woodward has revealed he is still waiting to give police information about the alleged sexual abuse he suffered as a junior player and says he wants to "let go of that pain".

Last month, he told The Guardian he was abused as a young footballer in the 1980s. Woodward waived his right to lifelong anonymity to speak out - and others followed.

He took to social media on Wednesday night to reveal his disappointment at a lack of action.

Woodward wrote on Twitter: "I've now been waiting 5 weeks to provide my statement with the police for further abuse on me.

"I need to let go of that pain yet (I'm) still waiting."

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2016, with the headline 'Victims may be 'as young as four''. Print Edition | Subscribe