The Times today carries a two page report on Chelsea Football Club, who are investigating the activities of a former scout, Eddie Heath who died in the late 1980's. The report says that at that time that Mr Heath was working for the club in the 1970's, there were rumours circulating about his abuse of children, and warnings passed down from older to younger players.
Heath was dismissed from Chelsea in 1980 but he took them to an employment tribunal. Chelsea said that his scouting was unsatisfactory and that he did as he pleased. There was no mention of child abuse. Heath won his case on procedural grounds and then went to work for other clubs.
The report makes the point that a number of football coaches were actually convicted of abusing children in the 1990's, but that the Football Association carried out no wide ranging investigation as to whether other children might have been victims, or whether children were still at risk. The BBC reported that in 2003 the Association actually scrapped a project set up to protect children. This is particularly galling for survivors of abuse, given the huge amounts of money washing around football.
The picture that is coming across from all of these appalling reports is that football had a "blind side" to abuse in common with many other institutions, such as care homes, the church and schools. Matt Dickinson writes in the Times that "....it is about a public institution - the national game - properly facing up to its responsibilities". Let us hope that they do so.
At the same time, evidence is mounting that the abusers acted as Jimmy Saville did. That is - they were carrying out their abuse in plain sight.
The scandals in the Catholic Church did enormous damage to their image in the eyes of their congregation. The result is bound to be the same for football.
Apparently Chelsea settled a child abuse compensation clam brought by a former trainee. The payment was made with a confidentiality clause.
Such agreements are commonly made in compensation claims, although I have only ever settled one such case with such an agreement. They are designed to stop Claimants talking to the media about the matter, but in reality they may be of little use to an institution such as Chelsea, if the matter is investigated by the police or social services. They will not be bound the agreement. Arguably a further victim of the same abuser, could still open up the details of the first victim's case in order to find "similar fact" evidence to assist his own civil claim, by making an application to the court. The court is likely to grant that application if the evidence is relevant to the case.
I find the whole idea of a confidentiality agreement an uncomfortable one, but if the client wishes to obtain their hard won compensation and move on with their life, then they are sometimes a necessity. One cannot blame survivors for wanting to control the details of these matters.
Chelsea's experience demonstrates the limitations of this particular agreement, as it is now being reported in the national press. It also transpires that this agreement should have been reported to the Football Association.
There is also a wider question as to whether Chelsea reported the matter to the police. All robust child protection procedures recommend that the police and/or social services should be involved if there is a credible report of child abuse. The death of an abuser does not necessarily mean that the matter is closed. There are always lessons to be learned. Regrettably the mistake that is often made by organisations is to fall back on the easier method of "sorting it out" internally. This can have disastrous consequences many years on.
Moreover, there is substantial evidence that abusers sometimes work together, across different areas of the country. So an allegation made against someone who is long deceased, may still throw up current child protection issues.
Recently I handled a claim, where a residential social worker from one local authority, who was convicted of possession of child pornography in the 1980's. He mysteriously appeared in the statement of another witness in a different case, which was quite unrelated apart from this link. He was described in the second case as visiting the children of a private residential home at around the same time, as he was working for the local authority.
Chelsea's experience is one that is bound to be reported from other football clubs.
Malcolm Johnson, Specialist Child Abuse Lawyer