Graham Taylor accused of role in sex abuse cover-up
Former England coach ‘failed to report paedophile’ Victim told to ‘move on’ and did not contact police Claims come to light as football inquiry continues
The independent inquiry into football’s sexual abuse scandal has heard claims that the former England manager Graham Taylor was involved in a cover-up at Aston Villa that led to boys being exposed to a paedophile who was working for the club as a scout and later convicted of offences over a 13-year period.
Taylor is alleged to have discouraged Tony Brien, one of Ted Langford’s victims, from reporting what had happened and told him, according to evidence presented to the inquiry, that he should “move on” after the teenager informed Villa in the 1987-88 season that he knew from his personal experience that boys were at risk, having been abused at a feeder club for Leicester City when he was 12 to 14, in the early 1980s.
Taylor died in January this year, revered and hugely popular after his long managerial career.
The inquiry is also looking at a separate allegation, relating to his first spell at Villa, from 1987 to 1990, that another of Langford’s victims came forward with information that could have saved other boys from similar ordeals.
As well as evidence from Brien, the barrister in charge of the inquiry, Clive Sheldon QC, has heard a claim that one boy told Villa what had happened and Taylor subsequently visited him at home with another member of staff. The allegation, again, is that Taylor discouraged the boy from taking it further.
In Brien’s case, he alleges Taylor spoke to him on the telephone and told him that if the story reached the newspapers it would make the player, who had just broken into Leicester’s first team, a target for terrace taunts. Taylor, Brien says, asked him to imagine what it would be like hearing the crowd’s obscenities every week. Brien, who was 18, claims the message was: “Can you really be doing with the abuse from the terraces?”
The police were never informed and new evidence shows Langford, previously a scout for Leicester, continued working for Villa until summer 1989, raising questions for the club about what they knew, what they did about it and how many boys potentially suffered as a result.
The Guardian has seen one letter on Villa-headed notepaper that has Dave Richardson, then the club’s assistant manager, inviting one boy to a fourday training course in March 1989 and explaining that “exact arrangements will be given by our representative Mr T Langford”. The boy in question has reported he was abused by Langford from 1987 to 1989, including at Villa’s training ground.
Richardson, who went on to have key roles in youth development for the Football Association and Premier League, has chosen not to comment while the inquiry is ongoing but has clearly stated on previous occasions, including a statement issued by his lawyers, that the club were first warned in 1987, leading to an internal investigation and Langford’s sacking. Yet other official papers, also seen by this newspaper, show Langford continued to be paid for up to two years after that point. Langford, a part-time scout in the club’s youth set-up, was paid through the entire 1987-88 and 1988-89 seasons. His final payment came in June 1989 when he was sacked in the wake of other allegations that Villa did not report to either the police or the FA.
Langford, who was also a refuse collector, continued to work in youth football in the Birmingham area and when he was finally convicted in 2007 the offences
related to four boys from 1976 to 1989. He admitted three charges of indecent assault and four of gross indecency and was sentenced to three years in prison.
A decade later, Langford’s involvement at Villa is one of the cases being investigated under point five in the inquiry’s terms of reference, namely to examine “what that club did or did not know and/or did or did not do in relation to child sexual abuse”. Sheldon intends to interview Richardson and the findings are expected next year.
Brien played for Leicester, Chesterfield, Rotherham United, West Bromwich Albion and Hull City in an 11-year professional career and waived his anonymity after a Guardian interview with the former Crewe Alexandra footballer Andy Woodward last November opened up what the Football Association chairman, Greg Clarke, has called a “tidal wave”. The last police figures, from 30 June, showed 741 alleged victims had come forward and 276 suspects had been identified. Operation Hydrant, the police unit in charge of the operation, had received 1,886 referrals and a number of court cases involving professional clubs are under way.
Langford was 66 when he appeared at Birmingham crown court in 2007 and was described by the judge as someone who “held the keys” to boys’ dreams, molesting youngsters who “would have been in awe of you, unable to quarrel with you or reject your advances” from a team, Dunlop Terriers, which was a feeder club for Villa and, previously, Leicester.
All the victims suffered psychological damage, the court was told, including one who took an overdose that left him in hospital. Langford’s lawyer said his client regarded the boys as “easy victims” because of their dreams to become professional footballers. Brien, who was not involved in the criminal case, went to the police last December only to discover that Langford had died in 2012.
His police statement was passed to the FA and, in an interview with the organisation’s senior case officer, David Gregson, in March he also recalled Dunlop Terriers going on exchange trips to Sweden and Denmark – playing in Leicester’s kit – when Langford would share a bunk bed with different boys on the ferry.
A lot of boys, Brien said, would play those games with love bites on their necks. In his later evidence to the inquiry, he was asked to describe Langford and talked of him being “always in tracksuit bottoms, little goatee beard, yellow fingers from smoking his Park Drive and small hands”.
Langford was the manager of Dunlop Terriers, which was based in Birmingham, and Brien was there when it had links with Leicester, where Richardson was youthteam manager from 1980 to 1987.
Brien was eventually taken on by Leicester but, at the age of 12, Langford told him that if he wanted to make it as a footballer he needed to show the club’s doctors he had a special gene that could be found only in sperm. Langford would then drive him to the Hilltop golf course in Birmingham, close to Brien’s school, and abuse him in his red Ford Granada.
Giving evidence to the inquiry on 10 August, Brien said he became strong enough, at 14, to warn Langford off and, desperate to cleanse himself from “a dirty feeling I couldn’t get rid of”, summoned up the courage to report him when Richardson left Leicester to join Villa four years later. Langford moved with Richardson at the same time, with Dunlop Terriers also switching allegiances, and Brien said he knew other boys would be at risk. “Dave Richardson brought me to Leicester City. I felt as though he was the only one I could really tell because he had that man working for him as well. I wanted to do something to stop it happening again.”
According to Brien, now 48, there were a number of telephone conversations in the following weeks and then Richardson allegedly rang him to say the club had decided what to do, telling him: “You’re a good player – sweep it under the carpet, son, move on.” Taylor was then said to take the phone and repeat the same.
“They discouraged me from going forward and never offered me a chance to go to the police or anything like that,” Brien said, answering questions from Sheldon and a second barrister, David Bedenham. “We used to look up to Dave Richardson as though he was a father figure. I’ve still got a lot of admiration for Dave Richardson, [for] what he did for me when I was a young man being coached. I thought he was a brilliant coach. But when I thought I was doing the right thing by reporting it to somebody who I trusted I felt let down and I didn’t know what to do.
“I was an 18-year-old child – well, child, man, whatever you want to call it – and you just don’t know what to do next. You’ve actually gone forward and told somebody, but they’ve just said: ‘Well, yeah ...’ They’re like: ‘Whatever …’ and you’re in shock.”
When Richardson was interviewed on two separate occasions by the BBC in January he appeared to remember Brien telling him about Langford and said he had already received other warnings, prompting him to start an investigation that was “dealt with fairly rapidly ... as soon as we got more information, as soon as I knew, we brought him [Langford] in and we got him out of the way”.
Richardson added that he did everything possible to help his players and it was “totally wrong” to say he had tried to smooth it over. “The bottom line is once he’d rung me [I would have said]: ‘We’re dealing with it, it will be dealt with in such a way whereby you don’t have to worry.’ I would have told him: ‘Leave it with me and we’ll deal with it.’ I wouldn’t brush it under the carpet, otherwise I wouldn’t have sacked him [Langford].”
In a statement issued by his lawyers, Richardson then said he could not recall any conversation with Brien and that he had launched the internal investigation, resulting in Langford’s sacking, after “alarming allegations” from another member of staff during pre-season of 1987.
“I took these extremely seriously and began making inquiries. These led me to speak to the parents of two young footballers at Aston Villa who each told me their sons had been abused by Ted
‘I thought I was doing the right thing by reporting it. I felt let down and didn’t know what to do’
Langford. I asked them if they were going to report the allegations to the police or if they wanted me to. After consulting with each other, both sets of parents told me that they did not want the matter reported to the police.
“I respected that request and, therefore, instead I reported the allegations to Graham Taylor, Doug Ellis and Steve Stride [respectively the manager, chairman and secretary of Aston Villa] with my recommendation that Ted Langford be dismissed. This was accepted and Mr Langford was duly sacked by the club.
“In the late 1980s regrettably there were not the safeguarding procedures and protections which exist today. Since the parents of the two young footballers at Aston Villa had not wanted the allegations reported to the police, I did nothing further once Mr Langford had been dismissed and indeed heard nothing more about him until I was told in November 2016 that he had been imprisoned for abuse offences and subsequently had died.”
Taylor became England manager in 1990 and, though his time was not a success, he had become something of a national treasure by the time he died, aged 72. He was awarded an OBE in 2001 and his managerial career also included two periods in charge at Watford, where a stand is named after him, plus spells at Lincoln City and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Taylor’s family and former representatives have been made aware about what the inquiry has heard.
Richardson, a former teacher and nonleague player, began his coaching career with Middlesbrough’s schoolboys in 1966. After his spells at Leicester and Villa, he became director of youth at the Premier League and was later appointed chairman of the Professional Football Coaches’ Association, whose website credits him for having “worked closely with the then FA technical director, Howard Wilkinson, to establish the current academy system in professional football”.
Ellis, who was also once prominent within the FA as well as being on various committees for Fifa and the Premier League, stepped down at Villa in 2006 after a £62.6m takeover. Now 93, he is abroad and unavailable for comment but has said in the past that he remembered allegations of a child abuser but could not recall any discussion about whether the police should be informed. Then, as now, there was no legal requirement to report Langford to the authorities.
Villa say they cannot comment on specific allegations involving Langford because of “ongoing legal proceedings”. A statement said: “The club has co-operated fully with the FA investigation and takes the safeguarding and welfare of all players and staff very seriously and considers it to be of paramount importance. The club now has robust safeguarding polices and procedures in place to deal with any new and historic complaints raised.”
Leicester also released a statement saying the club had “no indication of any current or historic allegations made against or in relation to [its] employees. We would, of course, investigate fully in the event any information comes to light.”
Brien, whose career also included loan spells at Mansfield Town and Chester City, gave a full account of his story to the police in December but told the inquiry he opted against naming Taylor during an appearance on the Victoria Derbyshire Show on 30 January because the funeral was two days later. “No matter how much has happened to me, he’s still got a family and whatever you call it – respect, dignity, I don’t know – I just said: ‘This is not the right time to be [mentioning him].’”
Graham Taylor is alleged to have been involved in a cover-up while at Aston Villa
Tony Brien, now 48, told how he was abused by a paedophile coach, Ted Langford, in the 1980s