Mys­te­ri­ous death of Kit Car­son leaves too many ques­tions for­ever unan­swered

The Observer - Sport - - Football - Daniel Tay­lor Sports Jour­nal­ist of the Year

In­cred­i­ble co­in­ci­dences do happen but this one has been very hard for some peo­ple to ac­cept

Of all the many unan­swered ques­tions, there is one that leaps out in par­tic­u­lar: why, 15 min­utes be­fore he was due to start the first day of his trial for mul­ti­ple child- abuse charges, was the for­mer foot­ball coach Kit Car­son driv­ing on a coun­try road 45 miles from where he was sup­posed to be?

The dif­fi­cult truth is that his al­leged vic­tims may never get the an­swers they seek about why, rather than tak­ing his place in the dock at Peter­bor­ough crown court, he was be­hind the wheel of his red Mazda on the A1303 be­tween Cam­bridge and New­mar­ket and, for rea­sons as yet un­ex­plained, driv­ing in com­pletely the wrong di­rec­tion.

Car­son was sup­posed to be fac­ing a trial for sex­ual of­fences against 11 boys over a 31- year pe­riod and al­legedly us­ing his po­si­tion within foot­ball as a veil for his crimes. In­stead he never made it to the court and at 9.45am on Mon­day, with the jury wait­ing to be sworn in, his car left the road and hit a tree. No ap­par­ent skid marks, ac­cord­ing to the jour­nal­ists and pho­tog­ra­phers who have vis­ited that straight stretch of road, but tyre tracks show­ing he had trav­elled some dis­tance over the grass verge in a straight line. Car­son was pro­nounced dead at the scene.

For now, all that can be said is that it is an in­cred­i­ble co­in­ci­dence of tim­ing. In­cred­i­ble co­in­ci­dences do happen, but this one has clearly been very hard for some peo­ple to ac­cept. Free­dom From Abuse, one of the or­gan­i­sa­tions tack­ling child abuse, has used its Twit­ter ac­count to de­scribe Car­son as a coward and it is cer­tainly true that some of the peo­ple who were due to give ev­i­dence against their for­mer coach are ask­ing them­selves whether it was a gen­uine ac­ci­dent or if there was some­thing more to it. Of course they are. And, if you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you?

As you can imag­ine, that does not make it a par­tic­u­larly easy sub­ject to write about and, for the time be­ing, it seems to me that the best pol­icy is to wait for the post- mortem and try not to jump to con­clu­sions, when it will be for the coro­ner to de­cide what hap­pened on that quiet stretch of road near Bot­tisham, fi ve miles out of Cam­bridge.

One the­ory be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by de­tec­tives is that Car­son, who was 75, had mixed up the date of his trial and be­lieved it was start­ing on Wed­nes­day. In­deed, he took a call from the court ask­ing why he was not there and, in re­sponse, gave the impression he was on his way. Could it be that he was con­fused, ag­i­tated and un­der con­sid­er­able stress and all that played a part in what then oc­curred?

It still leaves a sig­nifi cant ques­tion about the di­rec­tion he was trav­el­ling – di­rectly east when Peter­bor­ough, from where he lived in Cam­bridge, was 40 miles north- west – but it is not my place to pre- judge an in­quest, just as it would be wrong to as­sume a guilty ver­dict from the trial. Car­son’s name will re­main syn­ony­mous with foot­ball’s abuse scan­dal but he died, in the eyes of the law, an in­no­cent man, with nothing ever proven.

All of which must be shat­ter­ing for the for­mer play­ers who had re­ported Car­son on the back of the “ti­dal wave,” to quote the Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion chairman, Greg Clarke, caused by Andy Wood­ward waiv­ing his anonymity in Novem­ber 2016 to ex­pose the Barry Ben­nell scan­dal. The po­lice have spent two years build­ing their case against Car­son and the charges took in of­fences from as far apart as an al­leged in­de­cent assault in 1978 to a count of in­cit­ing a 13- year- old boy into sex­ual ac­tiv­ity in 2009.

Car­son worked as a youth de­vel­oper at Nor­wich , Peter­bor­ough , Cam­bridge United and Histon FC, as well as scout­ing for Chelsea and running his own de­vel­op­ment cen­tre, and it needs only a cur­sory look at his list of dis­cov­er­ies within the sport to re­alise why he was once re­garded among the best in the busi­ness.

At Nor­wich, the play­ers he brought through in­cluded Craig Bel­lamy, Ruel Fox, Chris Sutton, Tim Sher­wood and Danny Mills. For Peter­bor­ough, there was Matthew Ether­ing­ton and Si­mon Davies and the story about how the owner, Peter Boizot, de­cided to buy the club be­cause he was so im­pressed by the con­duct of Car­son’s play­ers at a fundrais­ing event.

Car­son was so highly re­garded in the Barry Fry regime he had a 10- year con­tract and, speak­ing to FourFourTwo in Oc­to­ber 1999, said he had turned down of­fers from three top- di­vi­sion clubs be­cause “I couldn’t shit on Barry, if you will ex­cuse the lan­guage”.

Tot­ten­ham were one. Chelsea did even­tu­ally re­cruit him, as a regional scout­ing co or­di­na­tor for East An­glia, and Car­son also had strong links to youth foot­ball in Fin­land and Den­mark. He took hun­dreds of play­ers on tours abroad and had a web­site claim­ing: “I prob­a­bly know more about Euro­pean grass­roots soc­cer than al­most any other youth de­vel­oper in Eng­land, hav­ing trav­elled to Euro­pean na­tions with soc­cer teams well over 500 times.” The web­site had tes­ti­monies not only from Bel­lamy and Ether­ing­ton but also Dan Ash­worth, un­til re­cently the FA’s tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor. Ash­worth had been Car­son’s as­sis­tant at Peter­bor­ough and Cam­bridge and known him since be­ing on the books of Nor­wich, aged 12.

Against that, the case around Car­son told of a cul­ture where young foot­ballers were rou­tinely made to strip naked for ex­er­cise and body in­spec­tions, where he watched boys shower and some­times woke them in the mid­dle of night to per­form this rou­tine. Oth­ers have re­ported be­ing in­structed to wres­tle in muddy pud­dles wear­ing just their un­der­wear, or be­ing told to pair off, re­move their clothes, and mas­sage each other with oil.

Car­son had al­ways de­nied the al­le­ga­tions and was ex­pected to take the line of de­fence that it was im­por­tant to see the boys naked to check their mus­cu­lar de­vel­op­ment. To which the next ques­tion might rea­son­ably have been: was it nec­es­sary for them to re­move their pants, too?

He was charged with 12 of­fences, all re­lat­ing to boys un­der 16, from in­ci­dents mainly in Cam­bridgeshire. One, how­ever, al­legedly took place at a ho­tel in the north- west. Three were at Peter­bor­ough’s train­ing ground. An­other was in the grounds of a prison and the over­all picture is trou­bling, to say the least, when I have also seen tes­ti­mony from the FA’s in­de­pen­dent in­quiry re­lat­ing to the close links be­tween Car­son, Ben­nell and at least one of foot­ball’s other ca­reer pae­dophiles. Car­son was promi­nently in­volved in the Ca­nary Cup, a ju­nior tour­na­ment held an­nu­ally in Great Yar­mouth, where Ben­nell and the nowde­ceased Frank Roper used to mo­lest boys.

My col­league Steven Mor­ris has been on top of this story since first re­veal­ing that Car­son was un­der investigation and has also spo­ken to a num­ber of play­ers, past and present, who refuse to be­lieve the al­le­ga­tions against their for­mer coach. Ben Coker, who played at Cam­bridge and is now at Southend , was one . Shortly be­fore Car­son’s ar­rest in Jan­uary 2017 Coker said the com­plainants were “jump­ing on the band­wagon” and that he had been in con­tact with Car­son to of­fer sup­port. “I don’t know why they’re do­ing this,” he said. “It makes me angry.”

Ex­cept I can also re­mem­ber the “Friends of Barry Ben­nell” fund that was set up af­ter the first boy came for­ward, in 1994, to say he had been raped by the for­mer Crewe and Manch­ester City coach. Peo­ple were angry then, too. So angry, in­deed, that many wrote to court ac­cus­ing the boy, aged 13, of mak­ing it up, of

sour grapes and worse be­cause, they said, he was bit­ter about the fact he was not good enough to make it as a pro­fes­sional foot­baller. Ben­nell’s friends and sym­pa­this­ers raised thou­sands of pounds for the mon­ster who is now serv­ing a 31- year prison sen­tence.

That is the thing about the peo­ple who use foot­ball as a means to prey on chil­dren: they are clever, they hide their crimes well, they know pop­u­lar­ity is a shield and their roles au­to­mat­i­cally puts them in a po­si­tion of strength, hold­ing the dreams of those young­sters. Play­ers, coaches, friends, par­ents and col­leagues all get taken in. And if there is one thing I have learned dur­ing the last few years in­ves­ti­gat­ing the var­i­ous of­fend­ers, it is that they are bloody good at what they do.

And Kit Car­son? None of us can claim to know whether he was a cal­cu­lated, de­vi­ous pae­dophile apart from the 11 foot­ballers, now in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s, who were will­ing, one by one, to stand up in front of a jury, face an in­ter­ro­ga­tion from the de­fence bar­ris­ter and go through the graphic de­tails of what they al­lege their old coach did to them. One of the tragedies here is that what hap­pened on the A1303 last Mon­day means that will al­ways be the case.

Kit Car­son was due to face mul­ti­ple child- abuse charges when he was killed af­ter his car struck a tree 45 miles from the court

Palace’s Wayne Hen­nessey went on the de­fen­sive af­ter al­le­ga­tions about his ‘ salute’

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