Police say 526 possible victims in British soccer abuse scandal, 184 suspects

Former footballers and abuse victims Steve Walters (left) and Andy Woodward speaking in Manchester on Dec 5, 2016.
Former footballers and abuse victims Steve Walters (left) and Andy Woodward speaking in Manchester on Dec 5, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (REUTERS) - British police investigating allegations of widespread child sex abuse at soccer clubs dating back to the 1970s said on Wednesday (Jan 18) they had now identified 184 potential suspects and 526 victims, adding other sports had also been implicated in the scandal.

Police forces across the country launched inquiries after former player Andy Woodward revealed in November he had been abused as a boy by a youth team coach, prompting other ex-professionals to come forward with allegations.

The soccer abuse revelations are the latest in a series of paedophile scandals to have hit Britain in recent years.

Victims say the scale of wrongdoing is likely to be worse than in the case of TV star Jimmy Savile, a cigar-chomping BBC television host who abused hundreds of youngsters over six decades until his death in 2011.

So far 1,016 referrals of sports abuse have been passed to specialist detectives from a child protection charity and police.

The number of possible victims is now 526, up from about 350 last month, with 126 suspects.

The National Police Chiefs Council said 248 soccer clubs had been impacted, from English premier league teams to amateur sides, although not all were under investigation.

Police said 22 of the referrals related to other sports including rugby, gymnastics, martial arts, tennis, wrestling, golf, sailing, athletics, cricket, and swimming.

"Allegations of non-recent child sexual abuse are complex, often require specialist skills and knowledge, and can take time to progress," said Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the national police lead on child protection.

"However, all allegations and information received by police forces across the country are being acted upon," he added.

Last month, the Premier League cleared Chelsea of breaking its rules in failing to report allegations of historical sex abuse made by their former player Gary Johnson in 2014.

Johnson, 57, said he had been abused by former Chelsea chief scout Eddie Heath in the 1970s and received a 50,000 pound (S$87,433) settlement from the club in 2015.