“…This is not just about football; huge numbers of people suffered abuse in childhood, within the family or institutions. Survivors often feel shame, pain and confusion about what was done to them…”
The Chief Executive, Gabrielle Shaw, National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC), United Kingdom
I never thought there would be a national issue on topic “sexual abuse of UK young footballers”, & this would be so important that it would be worthy of an article to write.
However, as defender of human rights and fundamental freedoms, when I read the untold stories of several UK footballers who were unfortunately sexually abused when they were from seven to 20; I thought again and decided to write this article to create a wakeup call, fight back this injustice and bring the criminals before justice both under Civil & Criminal Law.
On 9th December 2016, in the UK, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) confirmed 83 potential suspects identified in football sexual abuse scandal. The UK Police also confirmed that 98 top UK football clubs names were published in alleged historical abuse of football players aged from seven to 20. The shock disclosure from the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) comes three weeks after the former Crewe defender Andy Woodward waived his right to anonymity to reveal in an interview with an UK leading national newspaper that he had been a victim of sexual abuse as a young football player. He explained about the horrific abuse he suffered from the age of 11 by one of his coaches.
As he bravely stepped out of the shadows to describe the sexual abuse he endured as a young player; English football started facing the worst crisis in its history. His allegation triggered an avalanche of allegations from other players. The NSPCC children’s charity was processing almost 1,000 reports to a hotline & released figure of 350 potential victims who were sexually abused when they were from seven to 20.
The former England striker and NSPCC ambassador Alan Shearer also expressed how he was abused by his coach when he was a young player. Another footballer Derek Bell also exposed how he was groomed and violated by his coach, the convicted paedophile George Ormond at the Montagu and North Fenham boys football club between the ages of 12 and 16 by. Paul Stewart, another player described in harrowing detail how he was abused at the age of 11 by the late Frank Roper, a well known youth coach in the north-west of England. On Tuesday, the former coach Barry Bennell was charged with eight offences of sexual assault against a boy under the age of 14. The offences allegedly took place between 1981 and 1985.
The Daily Mirror revealed that the former Chelsea player Gary Johnson signed a confidentiality agreement with the Chelsea club in 2015 in return for £50,000 after he alleged he was abused by the club’s then chief scout Eddie Heath in the 1970s.
As the scale of the scandal continues to escalate, UK he Football Association has launched an independent review & 21 police forces have launched investigations into the claims. The UK Police confirmed that that the information provided will be taken seriously and acted upon.
Liability under Civil & Criminal Law
Therefore, in this article an attempt will be made to analyse the legal position of victims of the UK football abuse scandal both under the Civil and Criminal law.
Club’s duty of care
Under the law of the land, when a young footballer joins with a football club, the club associated is under a duty of care to provide adequate safeguarding procedures in place for the protection of the children under their tutelage.
Coaches’ duty of care
The coaches are also under a legal duty of care to protect the children and young foot ball players under their care.
If we analyse the untold miseries of the victim of sexual abuse as a young football player, we will find that both the coaches and the clubs associated, this duty has been breached.
Personal Injury Law
In the UK, under the personal injury civil law cases, the victim of such a breach of duty should be entitled to damages to compensate them for the injury they have suffered.
In the case of the footballers this injury has tended to be psychological as well as physical. Further to this the footballer could be in a position to claim special damages for loss of earnings if it can be proven that firstly, they either had to retire early or secondly, they did not reach their earning potential as a result of the psychological torment leading from the abuse.
It is also possible to claim Damages to recover the cost of counselling, something that would be welcomed by the NSPCC and Professional Football Association (PFA).
The victims of the abused footballers could bring several actions against the football clubs for failing to protect them when they were child/young from the hands of their coaches. Two types of actions could be brought against the clubs namely; Action under the law of negligence & Action under the Vicarious Liability.
Law of Negligence
Under the UK law of negligence, the abused footballers could sue against the clubs on the basis that they were negligent in failing to protect their young players under their care.
The victims of the sexual scandal could also make the clubs accountable on the basis of the legal principal of ‘Vicarious Liability’; which refers to a situation where someone is held responsible for the actions or omissions of another person. In a workplace context, an employer can be liable for the acts or omissions of its employees, provided it can be shown that they took place in the course of their employment.
In the English legal system, there is a limitation period of three years in which a personal injury claims for compensation must be made. Should a claim not be made within this period then a claim would be ‘statute barred’. It is to be noted that the limitation period starts on the day in which the injury is caused or the earliest date upon which the injured person had the knowledge; which he might reasonably have been expected to acquire, to bring a legal action.
In the case of the abused footballers, I do not think that limitation will be such an issue. In my opinion, the child abuse and sexual abuse cases tend to be the exception. Usually this is because the victim will remain silent for some years after the abuse. The amount of players that have come forward and the weight of evidence this brings will guide the court. Also the public nature of the cases would be a big factor that the court will consider when exercising it’s direction.
The court has discretion to dis-apply the limitation period in these special cases. When deciding to dis-apply the limitation period the court will balance the prejudice against the defendant in bringing a claim and the weight of evidence carried by the claimant. Essentially the Court will look to remove the limitation period in cases where there would appear to be a strong case for the claimant.
The forgoing discussion reveals that an investigation similar to Operation Yewtree (the police investigation of Jimmy Saville and other media personalities) will be launched to bring those that have committed these horrific acts against young footballers be brought to justice. Victims of such crime should not suffer in silence. From a Criminal point of view, those coaches who have abused young players are likely to be investigated by the police and charged with offences of historic sexual abuse. This area of law is vast as the offences can range from grooming of minors to engaging in sexual activity with a child.
The victims should contact the Police and other law enforcing agencies immediately with a view to bring the criminals before justice and save the glory of UK football from the scourge of ongoing football sexual abuse scandal. All those involved – police, football administrators, players and their relatives, children’s charities, lawyers should get united to bring the offenders before justice as “…it is not just about football; huge numbers of people suffered abuse in childhood, within the family or institutions…”.