Clive Sheldon tells clubs he will investigate abuse claims if they fail to do so
Crewe’s decision not to hold a review of the Barry Bennell scandal may prompt action from the man running the FA’s inquiry into abuse claims.
The barrister leading the Football Association’s independent inquiry into child sex abuse has warned up to a dozen clubs they must hold their own investigations into abuse claims or he will do it.
Clive Sheldon QC was appointed by the national governing body in December 2016 and these clubs, along with the FA itself, are the main focus of his review.
Sheldon has recently written to them asking for a thorough report of what they have done to investigate claims of non-recent abuse and their responses are expected within the next month.
This move will put huge pressure on Crewe to reconsider their decision not to hold an inquiry into former youth team coach Barry Bennell’s serial offending during his time at the club in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Bennell was given a 30-year prison term for 50 offences by a court in Liverpool last month, his fourth conviction since 1995.
But, in a decision that provoked fury from his victims, the League Two side then issued a statement to say it would not be conducting an independent investigation – as promised in November 2016 when the abuse scandal first broke – because Cheshire Police had not found any evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the club.
Sheldon has not revealed which clubs he is concentrating on but Bennell is known to have had links with Manchester City and Stoke, and the former have already revealed they are conducting their own QC-led investigation into whether Bennell could have been stopped earlier.
Other leading clubs thought to be on his radar are Chelsea, Newcastle, Norwich, QPR and Southampton, all of whom have been linked to widely-reported claims of abuse by former coaches and scouts, some of which are soon to be heard in court cases.
Sheldon had hoped to give the FA his report by Easter but its scheduled arrival has now slipped until late September because of the amount of information he and his four-strong team have had to work through.
The numbers are staggering: 3,000 boxes of documents opened at the FA archive, 6,000 documents scanned and uploaded, 500,000 pages to be checked. Having been through more than half of them, 353 documents have already been identified as highly relevant.
Sheldon has also interviewed 29 survivors of abuse and hopes to speak to at least 10 more, and he has read the testimonies of more than 100 others.
An expert on child protection, Sheldon will name clubs and individuals if he finds evidence they did not respond correctly to safeguarding concerns. He can also recommend sanctions to the FA.
The decision on whether his report is made public, however, rests with the national governing body but Sheldon is understood to believe as much of it should be published as is legally possible.