Response to Barnardo’s Independent Review into Sexual Abuse at Southampton FC
26 November 2021
Though a very difficult read for all survivors, the Offside Trust welcomes the report by Barnardo’s published today as it serves as yet further proof of what happens when people look the other way, move the problem on and put the reputation of an organisation ahead of the lives and well-being of children in their care.
This report further raises the question of people’s responsibilities when they knowingly turn a blind eye to evil. Mandatory reporting of suspected child sexual abuse within sport has to be the way forward.
While the report focuses on Southampton, it should be remembered that because of the lack of action against Higgins, he was allowed to continue his evil abuse for many years after, during spells at Peterborough United and a number of non-league grassroots clubs. The lack of response from Peterborough continues to be a source of deep upset and anger for those who suffered at the club.
The Offside Trust continues to support survivors and is proud to give their voices the platform necessary to be catalysts for change in the future:
Former Southampton player Dean Radford has issued the following statement:
“Firstly I would like to thank Barnardo's for their detailed and honest report that although because of the time it took to produce was frustrating to say the least, we now know why.
“Southampton Football Club will always have a big place in my heart. Despite this, the people who were Board Members and in control of that football club should be ashamed of themselves for letting a monster like Bob Higgins, prey on young boys over a period of nearly 15 years. The Barnardo's Report shows that there were allegations about Higgins’ inappropriate behaviour towards children as far back as 1974, but the Board chose to do nothing. More concerns were shown over the years, but again ignored and swept under the carpet.
“In 1989, I came forward to report some of the abuse I had suffered, but once again, the Board of Directors did not report it to the police. They waited four months before they mentioned it to the police and that was only because a parent of another child had raised concerns to the police about Higgins’ behaviour. The police then went to the club to interview them. If that hadn’t happened then, the police would never have known about my abuse. To make it clear, this wasn’t a football decision; it was made by the people who ran the football club… not the coaching staff. The report does show this.
“Their failure to do the right thing and deliberately ignore the warnings, just to protect the football club's reputation has affected so many people's lives, not only at Southampton Football Club, but I honestly believe hundreds of children and their families would not have suffered as they have, if something was done about Higgins years ago.
“Other convicted sex offenders in football across the country would not have been given the opportunity to abuse so many innocent children if the problem in football had been highlighted earlier. Instead, because these board members chose to ignore the warnings and do nothing, the abusers have had the freedom to carry out horrendous crimes that will stay with the victims and their families for the rest of their lives.
“Our children are now in a much safer place than they have ever been, it’s just so tragic the price we had to pay to get them there. This should have and could have been stopped.”
Dion Raitt, former player at Peterborough and director of the Offside Trust said:
“This evidence demonstrates the failings at various levels to avoid preventing the magnitude of abuse that took place over three decades. It is clear that if individuals, the club, the FA and Football League had been more transparent with this, it would have significantly reduced the amount of boys abused by Higgins.
“If more appropriate records and meeting notes had been kept we could have established fully those accountable for allowing this to be swept under the carpet. Lessons must be learned and covering up a crime makes you complicit in a crime.
“The Offside Trust will continue to campaign for Mandatory Reporting to avoid future failings and to hold those people accountable.
“Personally I am disgusted that as one of the 30+ boys involved at trial and bringing about the conviction of Higgins, I was never contacted to be made aware or was it thought about the impact upon myself at this time despite in the court notes of being highlighted as one of 4 in this trial who have suffered serious psychological damage because of my abuse, is this not a warning flag that I should be briefed?
“Peterborough United are only mentioned in the report’s chronology and my existence is erased from the initial charges at the beginning of the report which wrongly states that Higgins was convicted for crimes between 1980 and 1989 - in fact my abuse, for which he was convicted, took place in the 1990s.
“It is deeply upsetting to publish a report which fails to take into consideration the subsequent consequences of Higgins’ abuse at other clubs and the impact that this has on so many other survivors who were not consulted during this process.
“We hear about the thoughts and the voice of the child being listened to and believed. For many of us, our inner child is still needing to be heard, and for this child, it has left me feeling isolated and ignored once again.”
Today’s report is another important milestone in the healing journey of survivors and their search for truth. But it is a sad reminder that so many survivors are still denied the respect and justice they deserve.
THE OFFSIDE TRUST RESPONDS TO FA’S SHELDON REPORT
17 March 2021
The Offside Trust, the organisation setup by survivors for survivors of child sexual abuse in sport, makes the following comments on the publication of the review today by Clive Sheldon QC, commissioned by the Football Association into child sexual abuse in football between 1970 and 2005:
1. Welcomed but Long Overdue
We welcome the publication of the review but are disappointed that it has taken to be published. While we recognise the complex issues involved it is long overdue. When the then chairman of the FA said in November 2016 that this was “one of the most serious issues facing football”, it was unthinkable that the review would not be published for almost four and a half years. More than 1,500 days of waiting, with survivors feeling at times that the issue was being kicked into the long grass.
2. Survivor’s Voices
Notwithstanding the delay, we thank Clive Sheldon QC and the FA for involving survivors in this process. The testimonies of the survivors that are included in the review are the tip of an iceberg that serves to give a voice to the thousands of people whose lives have been impacted by child sexual abuse.
3. Naming, Shaming and Blaming
There will be some who were expecting this review to single out particular institutions, clubs or individuals for the role they played in failing to safeguard so many children in the past. We are focussed on things that will make a positive difference in the future and will let history reflect and judge those who were less than wholehearted in their cooperation with Clive Sheldon and his team during this process.
4. Response to Recommendations
The recommendations are ones which would have been blindingly obvious to anyone within a few weeks of the scandal breaking. The FA should have immediately made these most basic of changes around training, awareness, spot checks and transparency without waiting for a 700 page report. The fact that they didn't speaks volumes about how far from reality the FA has been in this process.
Most of the recommendations are things that have already been in place within other sports bodies (such as the RFU) for several years. It is shocking that we have had to wait nearly five years to have someone suggest that a bit of safeguarding training every three years might be a good idea.
It is disappointing not to see anything stronger in terms of mandatory reporting.
There doesn't appear to be any formal acknowledgement of the healing journeys of survivors or any practical support for the families whose lives have been impacted.
We would have liked to have seen more on wealthy clubs supporting grassroots safeguarding.
We are deeply disappointed that the opportunity to create a world-class standard for child protection and safeguarding in sport has been missed.
It's like playing in the world's longest tournament only to get to the final and be told that the outcome had already been decided years ago.
5. Taboo No More
One of the lasting legacies achieved by survivors who have stepped forward, before and since November 2016, is the fact that across supporter’s groups and grassroots football in every corner of the country, the issue is no longer taboo. By speaking out and shining a light into the darkest corners of humanity, it is much easier for people to speak out knowing that they will be listened to.
6. It’s NOT Historic
The dates for this report were arbitrary and there is a narrative that the issue of child sexual abuse in sport is historic. It is not. Sadly cases are still happening today, but rarely get media coverage because they are typically in less organised environments of grassroots sport. We implore the FA and all sporting bodies to recognise that reports like this are not the end of the matter, but they are a key milestone in making sure safeguarding is never sacrificed in the future, at any level.
7. It’s NOT just Football
Football is always going to make the biggest headlines, but we always recognised that safeguarding is an imperative across all sports and indeed the wider community too. We have supported survivors from across the sporting world, from boxing to golf, and we hope that all sports bodies continue to recognise that nothing is more important than protecting children from abuse.
8. It’s NOT just England
Child sexual abuse is a global issue. The Offside Trust has been contacted by people from across the world following the high-profile cases involving our survivors. There is an opportunity for authorities in the UK to implement the best possible child safeguarding practices and to set an international standard of best practice.
9. Survivors and Justice
Our thoughts today are with the families of former teammates and friends, who sadly are no longer with us. We also stand with all those who have never had their stories told, faced their abusers in court and seen justice delivered. The issues around an inadequate justice system which serves up a postcode lottery in cases with multiple victims need to be addressed by wider reviews beyond football.
10. Ask for Help
Finally, the Offside Trust encourages anybody impacted by this issue to reach out and get help. There is a wide range of support organisations and helplines available that we would like to signpost (it would be really appreciated if media helped to publicise these):
If you are a survivor of child sexual abuse in sport, there are a number of resources available.
The FA have commissioned a dedicated NSPCC helpline for adults who were abused in childhood within the football industry from grassroots to Premier League. If you would like to speak to somebody the free NSPCC helpline for guidance and support is available 24 hours a day on 0800 023 2642.
Our friends at Survivors Manchester (https://www.survivorsmanchester.org.uk/) are excellent as are
Samaritans (https://www.samaritans.org/) who have help and support available if you need to talk call 116 123
If you think that a child is in immediate danger please dial 999.
If you are a child who needs help, please call Childline on 0800 11 11
We would like to signpost ‘Football’s Darkest Secret’, the 3-part documentary on the BBC which begins on 22 March 2021 - https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000ths4
No further comment will be made until after the BBC documentary has aired.
Thursday 8 October 2020
Former football coach Barry Bennell has been convicted for additional crimes at Chester Crown Court today. Steve Walters and Gary Cliffe spoke outside the court on behalf of The Offside Trust, the organisation setup by survivors of child sexual abuse in sport.
“We are delighted that more survivors have seen justice done today. The sentence is to be welcomed and is a reminder of the horrific nature of what these men and so many others have lived through. No number of additional years would have been enough for this serial abuser, but we can at least take some solace from the justice that has been served.”
“Today marks an important milestone in the lives of our fellow survivors. And not just the ones here today. The decision not to bring the dozens of other outstanding cases to court is a bitter blow to so many men and their families. We share their anger, disappointment and pain.”
“Every single case of abuse perpetrated by this man and others like him, is a monstrous crime. Every single case is a heartbreaking and individual story. And every single case should have been investigated and heard in court.”
“We understand that this has significant resource implications and that is a matter for the government, but justice cannot continue to be a postcode lottery.”
“We now await with great interest the report to the Football Association from Clive Sheldon QC who has reviewed this and other cases of abuse. Sport faces many challenges at the moment from economic survival to fighting prejudice in all its forms, but the protection and safeguarding of children must never be diluted or relegated. We have stood up and spoken out in the hope that others will never have to.”
“We would like to thank the police, the judiciary, the media and everyone who has supported this long fight for justice. Most of all, we thank every survivor who has come forward and we remember the many brothers we have lost and who are no longer with us. Thank you.”
Latest Blog: Our Man in East Anglia
On becoming an Ambassador for the Offside Trust, I felt that my role was to raise awareness in East Anglia. One of the big issues I had regarding my abuse was the total lack of support I could access from day one. Myself and my wonderful volunteer Barry Howard developed a strategy to ensure that everyone who needed support in East Anglia knew where to find it and had people to talk to on the bad days - something which I never had until now.
We started out by sending a tweet to all the local clubs in the Norfolk area asking if they would like to support our work and allow us to get the word out via the medium of non- league football.
I was contacted by Mulbarton FC and met the chairman Duane James who agreed that they would support our work. Every Mulbarton team from under 7s through to mens, ladies and veterans would wear the Offside Trust logo on their shirts and the club put up a sponsored board.
This created quite a stir and many teams got in touch regarding working with us and many meetings ensued. We introduced the idea of ‘Awareness Days’ where we would visit clubs to allow people to talk to us face to face and discuss any issues they had.
Our first Awareness Day was at Great Yarmouth FC and was an excellent success. We spoke to many people about our work and most importantly one person came forward with abuse issues who we were able to direct to the right support and advice. We must thank Martyn Sinclair and Rob McCombe for their help on the day. A bucket collection also raised £100 for the Trust.
From this first Awareness Day, we were contacted by many clubs and leagues to ask how they could come on board and one such club was Shrublands FC, a club in Gorleston. I went to meet Andy Hannah the general manager of the club and he invited Shaun Platten to the meeting who was chairman of the Norfolk Suffolk Youth League. So successful was this meeting we were invited to their next meeting and I spoke for the first time publicly about my abuse and what we were doing to raise awareness and offer support to the league.
From this small start we really started to pick up pace and phone calls never seemed to stop regarding clubs and leagues wanting to come on board. Darrell Hibbert of East Point Sports has been wonderful in helping us get the correct merchandise which we sell on the Awareness Days to raise funds for our work. We sell mugs, beanie tats, corner flag sets, medical kits, water bottles and our popular Captain’s Respect armbands (we have sold over 100 of these).
So, from little acorns grew a wonderful and sometimes taxing and stressful array of meetings and awareness days meaning the Trust name was well and truly out there in Norfolk.
With a growing number of their clubs on board, I was invited to speak to the Norfolk Sunday League. This was a league I played in for many years so to stand in front of people I knew for over 30 years and detail what had happened to me was somewhat harrowing and cause quite a stir with some members of the committee who knew me personally and had no idea. They asked me to do the League Cup draw at the meeting and we are now working on ideas to get the word out to all Sunday League clubs.
Our next challenge was to get the largest youth league, the Combined Youth Football League (who have over 7,000 young players) on board. I met Darren Iles (the chairman) and within 5 days they announced we were their official partner and we are working with them now to look at their safeguarding policies and seeing if we can help them get them even tighter moving forward.
In December, we received an approach from Suffolk FA requesting a meeting in early January to look at working with them moving forward. I met James Morley and from this meeting plans were put in place to work together attending events and cup finals where we could display our Offside Trust stand.
The final event that we attended before the coronavirus put life on hold, was a conference held by Norfolk FA at the University of East Anglia which involved various safeguarding officers from across the region, including many local safeguarding officers from clubs in Norfolk and Suffolk.
I was asked to close the event with a 30-minute presentation and was given a standing ovation which was truly moving. We were invited to attend the Norfolk Senior Cup Final at Carrow Road (home of Norwich City) and to receive an award for our work this year.
A huge thanks to the following for their support:
Norfolk Suffolk Youth League
Norfolk Combined Youth League
Norwich Sunday League
Bury Town FC
Lowestoft Town FC
Great Yarmouth Town FC
Stalham Youth FC
Downham Town FC
Fakenham Town FC
Taverham Under 11
Taverham Youth FC
Thetford Rovers FC
The planning for when we come out of Lockdown and the local football season restarting will see further cooperation with:
Bradenham Wanderers FC
Thetford Town FC
Thetford Rovers FC
I cannot finish this run down of our work with mentioning the wonderful support we have had from East Point Sports, Premier Logos, 4sports Group plus Chris Goreham, Rob Butler of Radio Norfolk, Lauren Cope of the Eastern Daily Press and more importantly all this would not have been possible without my wonderful volunteer and friend Barry Howard who along with others have given me wonderful support. Also, my partner Carol Bennett who supports me at home on the sometimes not great days when I am tired and stressed on my return from the Awareness Days.
Follow Alan's great work on Twitter @arber_boy
13 March 2019: This afternoon former Foreign Secretary and ex-Mayor of London, Boris Johnson told LBC Radio that spending police budgets investigating historic child abuse is “spaffing money up the wall”.
Chris Unsworth, Director of the Offside Trust, the organisation set up by survivors of child sexual abuse in football in the wake of the football abuse scandal, said:
“The comments made by Boris Johnson today are ignorant, dangerous, disgraceful and unbelievably distasteful. Not only has he caused untold upset and offence among survivors and their families affected by child abuse, he has failed to understand that learning mistakes from the past is critical to keeping our children today safe.
“Boris Johnson clearly has no understanding whatsoever of the issues involved. On behalf of the thousands of people impacted by child abuse we demand an apology. Once that has been forthcoming, we invite Mr Johnson to meet with our representatives and educate himself about this issue that impacts not only the children of yesterday but also the children of the future.”
23 November 2018: The Offside Trust Podcast - Surviving Abuse - is now available featuring conversations between two of our survivors, Chris Unsworth and Gary Cliffe. The first episode deals with the issue of disclosure and how they each decided to come forward and tell their stories to family, friends, the police and the media; the second goes through the court case and trial; while the third talks about the work of the Offside Trust.
Episode 1 - Disclosing: http://traffic.libsyn.com/theoffsidetrust/Epsidoe_1_-_Disclosing.mp3
Episode 2 - The Court Process: http://traffic.libsyn.com/theoffsidetrust/Episode_2_-_The_Court_Process.mp3
Episode 3 - The Offside Trust: http://traffic.libsyn.com/theoffsidetrust/Episode_3_-_The_Offside_Trust.mp3
6 November 2018: In the light of continuing high-profile child sexual abuse convictions involving former coaches at football clubs, the Offside Trust has today called for the adoption of a Charter of Responsibility.
As the organisation set up ‘by survivors for survivors’ in December 2016, the Offside Trust, has been working for the last two years to provide support to survivors and to raise greater awareness of the need for safeguarding in sport to protect children from sexual abuse.
Director of the Offside Trust, Steve Walters said:
“These clubs have a moral, ethical and human responsibility to the children who were abused wearing their colours. Whatever the failings of the past, it’s the right thing to do now. This isn’t about naming and shaming individual clubs - they've already done that themselves through their silence and avoidance.
“Club owners should stop hiding behind lawyers and PR statements. It’s time they spoke from the heart rather than shrugging and saying they knew nothing at the time. Well they know something now. And it’s time to apologise.”
The details of the proposed Charter are listed below:
Sports clubs where child sexual abuse has taken place have a moral responsibility to both survivors and to the communities which they serve.
We call upon these clubs to adopt a ‘Charter of Responsibility’, which includes the following five commitments:
1. The club’s most senior officials should apologise publicly for the suffering of those abused at the club or by those employed by or representing the club and attempt to make direct contact with each survivor to privately apologise.
2. The club should work with partners to ensure that survivors have access to a range of support services to help their healing journey.
3. The club should be as transparent and cooperative as possible with police, administrative bodies, media and supporters, to ensure that the full truth about child sexual abuse can be revealed.
4. The club should be open about safeguarding failings of the past and set out clearly how things have been changed to try and avoid this happening again.
5. The club should outline how it can become a beacon of best practice by supporting safeguarding initiatives with grassroots clubs in their local communities.
The Offside Trust believes that these commitments represent the absolute minimum acceptable response for any sports club or organisation involved in child sexual abuse, whether recent or historic.
Note: In undertaking the above action, clubs would not be inferring any guilt or negligence. Section 2 of the Compensation Act 2006 states: “An apology, an offer of treatment or other redress, shall not of itself amount to an admission of negligence or breach of statutory duty.”
Survivors of child sexual abuse in football have carried their secrets for decades and many have spent the last two years going through the pain and distress of reliving their horrors in the hope that the truth will be heard. For the findings of the FA’s review to be further delayed is a huge disappointment.
We understand that the complexity and scale of Clive Sheldon QC’s investigation necessitates additional time and we are appreciative for the difficult work of the team and the police. However, it is precisely because of the scale of the issue that we believe an interim report should be published now with initial findings.
There are always likely to be ongoing trials or trials in the near future, and the pursuit of justice cannot be derailed. However, lessons must be learned today and the issues around reporting and the actions or inactions of football clubs needs to be addressed sooner rather than later, especially in cases where the same individuals remain in positions of authority and control.
We will continue to support and facilitate constructive engagement between the review team and survivors, but an interim release of findings would be a welcome step on the healing journey of survivors.
A football club in Northwich, Cheshire has changed the name of their home ground to show solidarity with the Offside Trust.
Barnton FC will play matches at the Offside Trust Stadium for the rest of the season.
“We’re driven to help an organisation that has already achieved amazing things,” said chairman Steve Lloyd. “We also wanted to do something different to some of the excellent work other clubs have done to raise awareness of the issue.”
The Villagers play in the North West Counties League’s second tier, and are the latest club to show support after Northwich Victoria and New Mills both agreed to display the Offside Trust logo on their shirts and dozens more have put up pitch-side advertising boards.
Actor Michael Sheen was one of the judges for the 2018 New Radicals list that included the Offside Trust. The 2018 Observer/Nesta awards celebrate the social enterprise innovators making a difference to real lives in the UK. The winners are chosen for bringing positive social change and according to Sheen, the awards "shine a spotlight on those delivering programmes, services and campaigns that put people and the planet first".
The Offside Trust message has been in evidence this month from grassroots cricket to global television audiences.
It was the Derbyshire and Cheshire Cricket League 'Offside Trust T20 Finals Day' involving Mottram, Whaley Bridge, Hayfield and eventual winners Hawk Green.
While for the national T20 finals day at Edgbaston, live on Sky TV, cricket legend David 'Bumble' Lloyd proudly wore his Offside Trust wristband and messaged his half a million followers on Twitter.
We are absolutely delighted to announce that @NevilleSouthall has kindly invited us to take over his Twitter feed to spread our message.
On Thursday 27 September 2018 from 5pm to 7pm, we will be engaging directly with his 143,000 followers. This is a powerful platform for us and we are grateful to our friend, the Wales and Everton goalkeeping legend.
The Offside Trust's Steve Walters has been advising the Channel 4 soap, Hollyoaks, on their most challenging ever storyline - tackling child sexual abuse in football. Steve has been working alongside Duncan Craig from Survivors Manchester to advise the writers and actors for several weeks. The plot has raised awareness of the issue across new, younger audiences and has been praised highly by TV critics.
BBC Sport presenter Dan Walker was a special guest at the first Offside Trust golf day held at the stunning Stockport Golf Club.
More that 80 players joined the Offside Trust directors and ambassadors in what was a fun-filled day that helped to raise a significant amount to support the ongoing work of the Trust. The golf was followed by an auction of golfing and football memorabilia.
Thank you to all our players, sponsors, donors and organisers for such a great day.
As survivors of child sexual abuse, we all experienced a stifling pressure to stay silent. We all experienced confusion about what was happening, about how someone could cause us such physical and emotional torment. We all experienced shame and guilt.
As survivors we know that, this experience makes it incredibly difficult to speak out. It takes tremendous courage, and is accompanied by an almost crippling fear that you will not be believed.
The justice system can be complex and frustrating. There will be many setbacks along the healing journey, but we stand shoulder to shoulder with all survivors at this difficult time.
To all those survivors who are suffering in silence, and all those who showed exceptional bravery in speaking out but have yet to receive justice, we send this message:
We believe you.
We stand by you.
We will fight with you to make sure future generations do not suffer as we did.
It may provide only little consolation, but we are certain that history will reflect your courage in ways we cannot yet understand.
With love and solidarity.
The Offside Trust
A huge thanks to Jamie and Rebekah Vardy for choosing the Offside Trust as the beneficiary of the new single by The S6 – Vardy’s on Fire.
Chanted by England fans for the last two years, the song has been released to coincide with the World Cup Finals in Russia.
All proceeds from the single will go to support the important work of the Offside Trust and help to raise awareness of child sexual abuse in sport.
We are absolutely thrilled and honoured to have been chosen by Adana Construction of Stockport to receive an amazing £8,000 donation following their hugely successful annual golf day at Stockport Golf Club. Chris Unsworth, director of the Offside Trust, received the cheque from Adana and said that: "This is phenomenal. It is one of our biggest ever donations and we are so grateful to Adana Construction. This money will help us to continue our valuable work of supporting survivors of child sexual abuse in sport and will fund a number of new initiatives that we have planned to raise awareness and make sport safer."
The Offside Trust is holding its first ever golf day to raise funds for its important work. It will be held on Thursday 30 August 2018 at Stockport Golf Club. Several Offside Trust ambassadors will be present as well as former footballers and celebrities. There will be a round of golf at one of the best courses in the North West, followed by a dinner and auction. Anyone interested in submitting a team or playing should contact us at: email@example.com
Several ambassadors of the Offside Trust have visited Portsmouth’s training ground ahead of their big game against Plymouth to meet players. A number of survivors, including a few that have not stepped forward before, were special guests at the game where both teams wore Offside Trust shirts during the pre-match warmup and details of the Trust’s work were covered in the matchday programme.
The Offside Trust is grateful to the organisers and supporters of the Northwest Football Awards for helping to promote our work at their prestigious awards ceremony in Manchester. Legends including Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Vincent Kompany and Brian Kidd celebrated the success of Northwest football and helped to raise awareness of the Offside Trust.
A host of celebrities and football legends, including David Morrissey, Rowetta, Trevor Sinclair, Ian Harte, Graham Stuart, Colin Hendry, Paul Dickov, David Dunn, Dele Adebola, Nicky Weaver, Danny Webber and Ashley Ward plus many other household names took part in the Offside Trust's first big fundraiser.