SHAM­ING OF THE BEAU­TI­FUL GAME

As a coach is jailed and po­lice un­cover 300 crimes, why does foot­ball have such a prob­lem with sex preda­tors – and why has the game’s re­sponse been so poor?

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - By Gavin Made­ley

THIS week­end, like any week­end, the na­tion’s parks will be abuzz with the fa­mil­iar racket of young­sters knock­ing a ball about with cheer­ful aban­don. On the side­lines will stand proud par­ents, some hop­ing their off­spring’s skil­ful con­tri­bu­tion to such kick­abouts might be spot­ted by a pass­ing ta­lent scout and lead to a glit­ter­ing ca­reer at the foot­ball club they adore.

Yet we now know that for ev­ery boy that made it, countless oth­ers were con­demned to walk an al­to­gether darker path.

They would suf­fer at the hands of op­por­tunis­tic pae­dophiles who at­tached them­selves to foot­ball’s in­sti­tu­tions and preyed on the hopes and dreams of vul­ner­a­ble youths to sat­isfy their own lust­ful de­prav­ity. For th­ese boys, there was no glimpse of par­adise, only an en­dur­ing and lonely hell – ig­nored, dis­be­lieved and os­tracised by both so­ci­ety and the clubs that should have pro­tected them.

Most ex­perts say the true ex­tent of the abuse is far worse than we know, as many vic­tims will have felt too ashamed to re­port their ex­pe­ri­ences and con­tinue to suf­fer in si­lence.

In the big­gest cri­sis of trust to hit the na­tion’s most pop­u­lar sport, the dark un­der­belly of the beau­ti­ful game has been ex­posed. But is Scot­tish foot­ball fi­nally ready to face up to its shame­ful past?

Cer­tainly, the tu­mul­tuous events of the past week which en­veloped Celtic Foot­ball Club and a damn­ing re­port into the state of Scot­tish foot­ball pub­lished in the sum­mer lead some ex­perts to doubt whether the will is there yet.

The in­sid­i­ous na­ture of sex­ual abuse and per­pe­tra­tors’ abil­ity to worm their way out of trou­ble has never been more ap­par­ent than in the case of Jim Tor­bett. He founded Celtic Boys Club in 1966 and this week was sen­tenced to six years’ jail af­ter be­ing found guilty of sex­u­ally abus­ing three boys be­tween 1986 and 1994.

It was Tor­bett’s sec­ond con­vic­tion for sex crimes against boys in his care at the club. In 1998, he was found guilty of abus­ing boys dur­ing his first spell in charge of the club be­tween 1966 and 1974, when his abu­sive be­hav­iour was first brought to light and he was sacked.

NOW 71, Tor­bett, had per­suaded Celtic FC to let him start up a boys’ club, con­vinc­ing them of his abil­ity to iden­tify skil­ful young play­ers who might one day light up the Park­head ter­races as se­nior squad mem­bers. He said it would be good for the young­sters and for Celtic. Above all, it would be good for Tor­bett, af­ford­ing him un­fet­tered ac­cess to wreak havoc on im­pres­sion­able young­sters lured by the prospect of wear­ing the club crest on their green and white hooped jer­seys.

Abuse feeds off the fear and shame that drives their vic­tims un­der­ground and pre­vents them from seek­ing help,’ said Ja­nine Ren­nie, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Well­be­ing Scot­land, a char­ity which works with the sur­vivors of abuse. ‘It is only by bring­ing the con­ver­sa­tion into the open that sur­vivors will feel they can speak out, rather than bot­tling it up for 30 or more years.

‘It is clear that foot­ball has had par­tic­u­lar prob­lems in that re­gard, per­haps be­cause of its tra­di­tion­ally ma­cho im­age where boys are not meant to show their feel­ings.

‘And it is cer­tainly ob­vi­ous from the game’s re­sponse to con­cerns raised about the be­hav­iour of mem­bers of staff in years gone by that clubs just did not know how to deal with child abuse.

‘More of­ten than not, they pan­icked and found it eas­ier to get rid of the abuser so he was no longer their prob­lem, rather than con­front the dam­age he had caused. But the abuse sim­ply fol­lowed the per­pe­tra­tor to an­other club and so the vi­cious cy­cle con­tin­ues.’

Tor­bett’s first trial at Glas­gow Sher­iff Court heard claims that when se­nior man­age­ment at Celtic Foot­ball Club, in­clud­ing then man­ager Jock Stein, learned about his abuse they took no ac­tion other than to throw him out of the club.

One of his vic­tims, James McGrory, told the court he had some­times spent the night in bed with Tor­bett, who told him to tell his par­ents he was with a team­mate. He said he was too fright­ened to tell any­one and was scared of los­ing his place in the team.

‘I was very young,’ said Mr McGrory. ‘I knew it wasn’t right, but I didn’t know what to do.’ When he saw al­le­ga­tions and Tor­bett’s pho­to­graph in a news­pa­per, it brought back mem­o­ries of the abuse. ‘I broke down and had to leave work,’ he said. ‘I wept as I told my wife what had hap­pened all th­ese years ago. It was the first time I had told any­one.’

In the light of Tor­bett’s sec­ond con­vic­tion, a num­ber of vic­tims are pre­par­ing to sue Celtic FC it­self, claim­ing the club breached its duty of care over its han­dling of Tor­bett’s of­fend­ing be­hav­iour. Sur­vivors of abuse are equally an­gry at the Park­head club’s re­fusal to is­sue a full and un­con­di­tional apol­ogy over the Tor­bett af­fair.

Tor­bett was al­ready into the third day of his six-year sen­tence be­fore Celtic made any com­ment about his lat­est con­vic­tion. Then, in a lengthy and care­fully con­structed state­ment, it of­fered plat­i­tudes such as ‘deep re­gret’ and ‘sym­pa­thy’ to shield it from mount­ing crit­i­cism but stopped short of say­ing ‘sorry’.

The club pointed out child abuse has af­fected many ar­eas of so­ci­ety, in­clud­ing foot­ball clubs, sports clubs, youth or­gan­i­sa­tions, ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and re­li­gious bod­ies across Bri­tain, and said it is the first Scot­tish club to ap­point a ‘safe­guard­ing of­fi­cer’ to mon­i­tor the wel­fare of its young play­ers.

It is un­de­ni­able that abuse in sport is en­demic and wide­spread – one need only look at the re­cent scan­dal en­gulf­ing the US gym­nas­tics team and ex-team doc­tor Larry Nas­sar, who was jailed for 40 to 175 years for a cat­a­logue of sex crimes. But one of Tor­bett’s vic­tims, Kenny Camp­bell, said: ‘What makes me so sad is the way Celtic have just ig­nored me and the other sur­vivors. They need to ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity for what was done in their name and set­tle th­ese le­gal cases.’

Celtic have al­ways con­tested his­toric claims of sex­ual abuse on the ba­sis that Celtic Boys Club was a legally ‘sep­a­rate and dis­tinct’ or­gan­i­sa­tion. Mr Camp­bell’s solic­i­tor, Pa­trick McGuire, was scathing about Celtic’s at­tempts to dis­tance it­self from Tor­bett’s crimes.

‘What was laid bare dur­ing the Tor­bett trial and his sen­tenc­ing is this man was an evil and com­mit­ted pae­dophile who op­er­ated as part of Celtic,’ he said.

‘He was part of Celtic and any at­tempt by the club to say he wasn’t is pre­pos­ter­ous. He abused young boys whose only dream was to play for the club.’

Mr McGuire, of Glas­gow-based firm Thomp­sons, now has ten clients pre­par­ing to sue Celtic over al­le­ga­tions of his­toric sex­ual abuse. He told the Mail: ‘What my clients and I can­not fathom is why Celtic con­tinue to ig­nore and dis­miss the im­pact of th­ese dis­grace­ful crimes com­mit­ted un­der their watch. Chil­dren in your care who wor­shipped Celtic were hor­rif­i­cally abused and you still won’t ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity. How can you square this with your con­science?’

It is a ques­tion that could be lev­elled at many clubs which ex­posed their young star­lets to men who not only de­stroyed their ca­reers but ru­ined their lives.

Old Firm ri­vals Rangers are not above such tac­tics when deal­ing with his­toric cases.

IN May this year the Ibrox side faced op­pro­brium af­ter telling a for­mer youth player he should pur­sue a com­plaint of sex­ual abuse by the club’s for­mer youth coach Gor­don Neely, who died in 2014, with liq­uida­tors, ar­gu­ing the abuse took place when Rangers were owned by a dif­fer­ent com­pany, now in liq­ui­da­tion.

But such le­gal chi­canery cuts lit­tle ice with those try­ing to re­form the Scot­tish game. Mar­tin Henry, for­mer chil­dren’s char­ity ex­ec­u­tive, is chair­ing an in­de­pen­dent in­quiry into his­tor­i­cal sex abuse in foot­ball. ‘I be­lieve all the clubs af­fected by this is­sue should apol­o­gise to those who have been most per­son­ally af­fected and, in­deed, their fam­i­lies,’ he said. While clubs may try to ‘ob­fus­cate or dodge the is­sue’

fol­low­ing le­gal ad­vice and amid in­sur­ance con­cerns, he said: ‘My view is the mo­ral sit­u­a­tion pre­dom­i­nates and they have a duty and an obli­ga­tion to is­sue an apol­ogy to those af­fected.’

The in­terim find­ings of Mr Henry’s re­port, pub­lished this sum­mer, of­fered a damn­ing in­dict­ment on the state of Scot­tish foot­ball’s re­sponse to the is­sue of child abuse. It found child pro­tec­tion poli­cies are ‘not fit for pur­pose’ and must change to prevent fu­ture cases of abuse. Mr Henry added he be­lieved the ‘vast ma­jor­ity’ of vic­tims had not yet come for­ward.

The in­quiry was or­dered by the Scot­tish Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion in De­cem­ber 2016 af­ter al­le­ga­tions of his­tor­i­cal abuse and crit­i­cism from MSPs the SFA was ‘asleep on the job’ on the is­sue of child pro­tec­tion. The re­port high­lighted gaps in its sys­tem that still leave chil­dren at risk, a short­fall in money to tackle the is­sue and a need for clubs to ac­cept greater re­spon­si­bil­ity for af­fil­i­ated youth clubs. The scale and scope – and dev­as­tat­ing im­pact – of his­toric sex abuse in foot­ball crimes is only just be­com­ing ap­par­ent fol­low­ing a spate of re­cent court cases.

They were sparked ini­tially by the litany of crimes com­mit­ted by an English-based youth coach, Barry Ben­nell. That prompted Op­er­a­tion Hy­drant, the UK-wide po­lice unit set up to in­ves­ti­gate in­stances of his­toric sex abuse within all pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions, to switch its fo­cus to foot­ball. Po­lice Scot­land re­ferred al­most 300 al­leged crimes dur­ing a year-long in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

By Novem­ber last year of­fi­cers had iden­ti­fied 153 vic­tims and ar­rested and charged 13 peo­ple with of­fences re­lat­ing to his­toric child sex­ual abuse.

The SFA has al­ready apol­o­gised for the ‘ab­hor­rent’ abuse suf­fered by young peo­ple un­der its care and vowed to im­ple­ment all the re­port’s rec­om­men­da­tions.

CHIEF ex­ec­u­tive Ian Maxwell in­sisted Scot­tish foot­ball was ‘a safe place for chil­dren’ and that mod­ern coaches face strin­gent checks be­fore they can take a class. But the re­port’s full find­ings have yet to be pub­lished af­ter the SFA found it­self em­broiled in a po­ten­tially mul­ti­mil­lion-pound civil dam­ages claim over al­le­ga­tions of his­tor­i­cal sex abuse in­volv­ing its own of­fi­cials.

One claimant is Peter Haynes. He waived his anonymity to tell the BBC how he was abused by SFA of­fi­cial and coach Hugh Steven­son, who died in 2004. Mr Haynes said Steven­son sub­jected him to a sus­tained cam­paign of sex­ual abuse, in­clud­ing rape, from 1979. He added: ‘Mr Maxwell says the SFA want a world-class child safety pol­icy. That should be­gin with tak­ing care of those it has al­ready failed mis­er­ably.’

Fel­low claimant John Cle­land has told how he was re­peat­edly raped by Gor­don Neely while at Hutchi­son Vale and at Hiber­nian in the early 80s, where Neely worked be­fore he moved to Rangers. He said: ‘The SFA are re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing sure that those coach­ing our chil­dren are peo­ple we can trust yet they com­pletely failed me and my fam­ily.’

Mr McGuire has harsh words for the SFA too. He said: ‘As the body in charge of Scot­tish foot­ball at all lev­els, the SFA is re­spon­si­ble for the wel­fare of chil­dren tak­ing part in our game. It is to the SFA’s com­plete and ut­ter shame that, due to their in­com­pe­tence and at times wil­ful dis­re­gard, crim­i­nals of the worst kind preyed on young­sters who only wanted to play foot­ball.’

And there’s the rub. Par­ents who dropped off their chil­dren in the 60s and 70s never dreamed they were ex­pos­ing them to evil. No­body stopped it and for the long­est time no­body helped the vic­tims.

As it tries to put its own house in or­der, should the SFA now be ask­ing it­self what it can do to shame Scot­land’s clubs into deal­ing with their past?

Sex crimes: Jim Tor­bett, above left, at court and, above, with Celtic Boys’ side around 1968. Far left, Jock Stein, who kicked Tor­bett, cen­tre, out of the boys’ club in 1974

‘Ig­nored’: Vic­tim Kenny Camp­bell

For­mer coach: Barry Ben­nell

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