Operation Hydrant, the specialist unit set up to investigate allegations of child abuse at football clubs, continues to receive new referrals as the extent of the scandal continues to grow.
Since former footballer Andy Woodward came forward and disclosed the abuse he suffered as a young footballer at the hands of a coach, Operation Hydrant have received 1,432 referrals; over 400 of these have been made in the last three months.
The flurry of new referrals has resulted in more than 300 football clubs now becoming involved in investigations about historical child abuse.
With reports of historical abuse in football continuing, Peter Garsden – Simpson Millar’s head of Abuse Law – has reiterated the necessity of his campaign to ensure that the FA establish a compensation fund for those who were let down by the association when they were vulnerable children.
Abuse Still Taking Place
Most shockingly from these latest sets of figures, which were uncovered via a Freedom of Information request submitted by an abuse survivor, is that many of the referrals related to recent cases.
In the last three months Operation Hydrant have received 46 reports of alleged abuse that has taken place from 2005 to 2016; 187 allegations involved incident that were alleged to have taken place since 1996.
When establishing their own inquiry into child abuse in football the FA claimed that the sport’s landscape was completely different now and that allegations of abuse related to a bygone era; it was for this reason that their investigation is only looking at allegations up to 2005.
These figures strengthen calls for the FA to either extend the timeframe of their investigation or to allow a completely independent body, such as the IICSA, to investigate the environment that allowed abusers to operate within the sport undetected for decades.
Allegations In The North-West
More new information that has been released under the Freedom of Information request showed that almost one third of abuse allegations relate to football clubs based in the north-west.
Explaining some of the possible reasons for this disproportionate level of abuse in the north-west, Peter explained:
“There appears to be evidence of a preponderance of abuse in football within the north-west region, where our abuse department is based, which is no surprise in view of the number of football clubs based in this area.”
“In the past the north-west has suffered from lower employment figures with lower wages than the rest of the country, as such the attraction of a career in football for a young boy must have been irresistible and thus caused more children to become exposed to abusive coaches.”
Action From The FA
With these latest figures highlighting that not only are abuse victims still coming forward with allegations of abuse in football but that abuse could still be taking place in the sport, Peter explains how the FA should act to ensure that victims have access to fair compensation:
“In general terms, the smaller the organisation, the less sophisticated their safeguarding policy is likely to be; as such, in the past, abuse often occurred at smaller clubs, who may have no public liability insurance and are governed by individual trustees.”
“The Football Association need to provide some sort of guarantee and financial protection to these clubs whose personal officers may be financially exposed to claims for compensation. It is for this reason that we are petitioning for a levy on the FA and its members to ensure that abuse survivors have access to a compensation fund for their horrific experiences while they were simply following their hobbies as children.”
“Furthermore, it does not surprise me that allegations of abuse in football continue to rise as for a long time the sport was an almost unregulated pastime for aspiring youngsters, this meant that there were opportunities for sex offenders to infiltrate the sport because the vetting procedures, particularly in amateur football, were either lax or non-existent.”
“There is no doubt that the media coverage of this scandal is a major trigger for the reporting of child abuse and disclosure. It has the effect of reminding the abuse survivors about the hidden secrets from their past, the same was true when the truth was revealed about Jimmy Savile.”
“The fact that a large group of individuals, who have had the same experience, are joining together to speak about their abuse in the past will reinforce the courage of other survivors to disclosure their experiences. Seeing others speak out makes survivors feel safer and more reassured that someone will believe them, especially as it’s likely that they may have tried to disclose in the past but were not believed or taken seriously.”