Speaking after former football coach Barry Bennell was charged with eight further counts of non-recent child sexual abuse, leading child abuse lawyer Peter Garsden – who is head of one of the country’s largest specialist abuse departments at Simpson Millar LLP – is calling for the FA to offer clubs indemnity to ensure that abuse survivors receive fair recompense for being failed as children.
Ever since former footballer Andy Woodward waived his right of anonymity to share his experience of sexual abuse at the hands of coach and scout Barry Bennell, there has been a distinct focus on abuse in football, with 248 football clubs implicated, over 1,000 cases reported to the police, and a support hotline set up by charity NSPCC receiving over 1,700 calls in its first three weeks.
This increased focus has shook the sport to its very core, with both individual clubs and the FA as a whole having to accept and address a long-hidden problem that they may have hoped would never have come to light – in one of the most shocking reports since the scandal came to light, Chelsea paid former striker Gary Johnson £50,000 in supposed hush money after he reported abuse by a member of staff.
With police forces across the country now investigating allegations of historic abuse, it is expected that there will be a sharp increase in the number of civil claims brought against negligent clubs who failed in their duty of care and exposed vulnerable children to dangerous members of staff without extensive vetting.
Of course, across the board, sports facilities have improved since the 60s, 70s, and 80s when many of this alleged abuse took place, however this will do little to recompense the apparent thousands of survivors who were abused as children and are yet to see their abusers brought to justice.
Despite this, there are still legal changes that could be introduced that would go some way to ensuring that children are protected in the future, namely mandatory reporting, which would require those working with children to report any suspicions of abuse – by law.
72% of Asia, 77% of Africa, 86% of Europe, and 90% of the Americas have some form of mandatory reporting in place – yet England, Wales, and Scotland all fall significantly behind in this regard. It is the unfortunate reality that children are the ones facing the consequence of this missing legislation.
Each victim of abuse is entitled to not only justice through the criminal system, but also compensation for the psychological effects of the abuse, which are usually lifelong, and devastating.
If the abuse has brought about the ruination of a professional footballer’s career, the loss of potential income will run into millions alone, without even considering an award for psychological damage.
With the wide scale nature of this abuse scandal, which already comes at a time of heightened knowledge of historic abuse thanks to the Savile revelations, it is likely that clubs will be facing civil claims from survivors who wish to hold clubs responsible; insurance lawyers were told to expect an increase in claims while the Savile scandal unfolded and the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) was established by then Home Secretary Theresa May.
While many of the larger clubs involved in this scandal may already have the resources in place to cover the cost of claims there is a concern that some smaller clubs simply won’t have the funds to support abuse victims, leading to club trustees facing bankruptcy and survivors not receiving a fair and correct amount of compensation.
This concern is particularly prevalent as many of the sports abuse case we have dealt with at Simpson Millar relate to small clubs; an example of such was the case involving the Ipswich Saracens, who were the subject of investigations by the Dispatches programme in the 1990s.
With these smaller amateur clubs, there is every chance that either insurance was not taken out many years ago, or that policies simply cannot be found, meaning that any compensation would not be payable by a third part insurer.
In cases such as these, claims will have to be made against the club itself, which usually consists of trustees or officials, who are personally liable for any potential claims which can be made.
Many of these trustees or officials will be unable to reasonably cover compensation for former players, as such the Football Association should stand behind all the clubs who are called upon to pay compensation to the victims of abuse, and provide some sort of indemnity.
Ultimately, clubs are regulated by the FA, both nationally and at a local level, as such the lack of safeguarding that was available to children playing sport – which undoubtedly enabled several paedophiles to operate unnoticed – falls on the FA.
The failure to safeguard children taking part in their hobby and in many cases – chasing their dreams to become professional footballers – has caused serious harm to innocent children, who are now adults.
Well-meaning managers of clubs should not be called upon to pay compensation out of their own personal assets; the FA should stand behind them to ensure that abuse victims receive a fair amount of compensation that can help them seek some semblance of closure decades after their harrowing experience.