Football Child Abuse Inquiry Team Receiving Counseling To Cope With Evidence
The leader of the review into child sex abuse in football and his investigative team are "receiving counselling to cope with the harrowing evidence that they have uncovered," according to Matt Dickinson of the LONDON TIMES. Their inquiry looks to be extended until at least Easter. QC Clive Sheldon and his staff are at what one source called the "deep dive" phase of the review, including interviewing dozens of abuse victims. They are using an expert psychologist provided by the FA to "help them to cope with hours spent listening to traumatic testimony." While the inquiry has "yet to run into any wilful obstruction," according to sources, investigations have not been helped by the "inertia of a number of county FAs." Sheldon approached the 46 county associations on May 11 with a deadline to respond by June 1. Four still have yet to respond and two "did so only last week after Sheldon contacted the governing body to ask for help." The scale of the task has "led to two of Sheldon’s staff working almost full-time on the inquiry," which is expected to cost more than £1M ($1.3M) by the time that he submits his full report. He hopes to do that by April 1, although publication "could be complicated by a number of criminal trials due early next year," including that of Bob Higgins, the former Southampton youth coach who has been charged with 65 counts of indecent assault against 23 boys aged under 17 between '70 and '96. A trial date has been set for April 9. Sheldon "plans to focus on about a dozen case studies." A key question to answer is how the game handled any complaints at the time, "although many victims have already recorded that they did not tell anyone, even their parents" (LONDON TIMES, 10/17). In London, Martha Kelner reported the latest police figures, from June 30, showed 741 alleged victims had come forward and 276 suspects identified. Operation Hydrant, the specialist police unit in charge of the operation, received 1,886 referrals. Sheldon is also believed to have contacted people involved with the FA's School of Excellence at Lilleshall in the '80s and '90s, "where some of the alleged abuse victims trained" (GUARDIAN, 10/16). The PA reported Sheldon and his colleagues have interviewed 15 former players who survived abuse and 35 non-survivors, "mainly former or current FA officials and senior figures from other sports, in order to compare their approach to safeguarding with football's." The "vast majority of their time has been taken up by sifting through the 9,000 boxes of documents the FA keeps in a storage facility in Essex." With much of this pre-digital age archive "poorly indexed," Sheldon's team has checked 1,266 of these boxes and believes it needs to "look through another 2,092" to make sure it does not "miss any letters, memos or reports related to abuse claims" (PA, 10/17).