The recent Alex Thompson documentary
Last week’s Channel 4 documentary by Alex Thompson into Child Sex abuse in Scottish Football was disturbing and controversial.
Much of the content of the programme centred around Celtic Football Club and the suffering of a number of children who were involved with the organisation known as Celtic Boys Club.
During the programme Mr Thompson made reference to Scottish football’s Independent Review of the Sexual Abuse of Children/Young People. The review completed it’s work in April of 2018 and decided not to publish it’s conclusions in full due to ongoing criminal prosecutions.(“16th April completed our Final Report.”). (Sect 1.7). On legal advice and “with full consultation of those who came forward. “A decision was taken to “withhold the public disclosure of the Final Report.” (Sect 1.9).
In June of 2018, an Interim Report was issued because it was “vital to make necessary changes .” So apparent were the gaps in child safeguarding in Scottish football the changes couldn’t wait for the conclusion of the court cases and the publication of the Final Report. It was stressed however that the Final Report was complete.
The interim report is 63 pages long and contains 95 recommendations. There is an ongoing theme throughout the report of adhoc, uncoordinated safeguarding across much of Scottish football.
It came as a surprise to read on the BBC News webpage last week a SFA spokesperson state that they had not yet received the Final Report, almost two years since it’s completion. In the same BBC News article the Chair of the Review, Mr Martin Henry stated that he had only been made aware of a non-recent allegation of trafficking a month previously.
The Review was asked to investigate,
1)The period of which the majority of the allegations of non-recent sexual abuse were concerned.
2)The period 2000-2013.
3)The period since 2013 including current activities and arrangements.
Specifically (and possibly the reason for the delay) the review was asked, “Who in Scottish football knew of the alleged instances of sexual abuse, at the time or subsequently? What did they know? And what was done? (Sect 1.10).
By June of 2018 twenty two people contacted the Review with allegations of non-recent sexual abuse concerning ten individuals (six are deceased).In a number of places the review states the belief that there are other victims, who have, to date not disclosed their abuse.
The picture painted by the review is of a chaotic structure. From the grassroots to Hampden there lacked leadership and transparency. The safeguards in place for children were not fit for purpose.
“It has been a common observation to this Review that the culture of football has been and to some extent still is seen as dominated by men in blazers who support and perpetuate a system of organisation, management and interaction which has not adapted successfully to wider social changes and apparently runs on a very narrow set of self interest… against such a backdrop, in the opinion of the Review, (made) sexual abuse of children and a failure to confront…those responsible, more likely.” (Sect 2.37).
Having worked in environments that require a paper trail and a high level of compliance the dangerous amateurism across all levels of Scottish football were very obvious on reading the Review.
Imagine you are part of a review team investigating an allegation of non- recent sexual abuse involving a child and you contact a club for records held in relation to the child…
“No football club was able to furnish records pertaining to either individuals or to decisions made or knowledge held at the Club at the time. This therefore creates gaps… However one senior club following an internal review in 2016, did provide the Review with information concerning it’s findings and records of this internal review.” (Sect 1.16)
Your guess is as good as mine regarding the identity of the club. None of this comes as a surprise given the events in Scottish football over the last twenty years and the complete lack of transparency in many areas.
Our own club faces ongoing criticism over our stance regarding Celtic Boy’s Club.The Review is quite clear in their view about the issue of historic ties with feeder clubs.”…A shared heritage is not confined to trophies, victories and celebration. It extends to defeats, failure and deficiencies.” (Sect 3.73).
On a positive note and something not highlighted by Alex Thompson was the Review’s acknowledgement of the work done by Celtic to create a safe environment for children and young people. It’s likely that many of the safeguarding measures recommended by the Review have come from the remedial work done at Celtic.
“In 2013 there appears to have been a clear shift in momentum in relation to the child protection/safeguarding within Scottish Football Clubs.
Celtic FC were in 2013 the first club to create a salaried safeguarding officer. This came about after an in-depth review which produced a code of ethics and good practice, vetting procedures for staff and volunteers. The review recommended that a post of Child Protection Officer (Safeguarding Officer) be created to continue the process at Celtic.
The independent review has been impressed by the commitment and leadership shown by Celtic FC progressing improvements in the protection of young people and the reduction of risk at the club over the last six years and we are aware that more recently steps have been taken to continue the process of improvement and delivery. (Sect 3.55/6/7).
As examples of good practice Aberdeen (2015), Ross County (2017) followed Celtic’s lead and introduced salaried Safeguarding Officers. *Rangers contacted the Review shortly before publication of the initial report (2018) advising that they planned to introduce a salaried Safeguarding Officer position.
The review highlights a culture of “homophobic banter”, grooming, bullying and abuse in Scottish football. The failings were across the game and still in 2018 many of gaps still existed from Hampden all the way down to grass roots level.
Other areas for concern include the issue of an apology to victims from the club’s concerned and appropriate compensation. This is not only a non-recent issue but a current one and it is anticipated that other allegations will be made. There needs to be a standardised mechanism in football for dealing with complaints and possible compensation.
The men who had the courage to come forward and tell their story have done Scottish children a huge favour. Celtic are a wealthy club and have responded by putting a mechanism in place to make similar abuse in the future less likely.
I sincerely hope that the blazers ensure that transparent protection procedures are put in place throughout Scottish football. I also hope that the victims are adequately compensated, not only for what happened to them but for the great service they have done the game.
The publication of the Final Report is likely to be traumatic and contain personal accounts.The media are unlikely to report on it in a balanced manner, they will sensationalise it and probably cause further harm. The Final Report has been complete since April of 2018 and reasons for it’s delay are unclear.
Followers of Scottish football have become accustomed to delays in the publication of Reports. Given that there that there are possibly ongoing investigations and areas of sensitivity, there must be some doubt as to whether the Final Report will ever be published. And even if it is and only deals with material that the Review was aware of prior to April 2018, one might argue that isn’t a fair representation of the actual abuse that is believed to have been widespread.
Celtic have responded. Safeguards have been put in place. It’s unclear what progress has been made at Hampden and at other levels of the game.
If/When the Final Report Report is published, Celtic’s role in modernising safeguarding procedures will be ignored. Celtic’s internal review proved to be invaluable to the Review and a number of safeguards introduced by Celtic have been recommended to other clubs.
It’s unclear if all other clubs have been quite as willing to disclose details of any internal investigations or invest so readily in safeguarding policies.
Supporters of Celtic know how the coverage will be portrayed.It’s important that we know that Celtic have responded professionally and quietly and we can only hope that the victim’s are adequately compensated and they find the peace and closure they deserve.
Alex Thompson’s investigation identified some areas where work needs to be done but it lacked balance, failed to highlight the considerable improvements made by Celtic and fell short of the standards normally associated with Channel 4 News.
The above is by The Gombeen Man. Should you fancy sending in a guest article yourself the address is firstname.lastname@example.org