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PSNI probes football child abuse claims: 'Small number' of reports of historic abuse at Northern Ireland clubs

Football sex abuse probe will ensure lessons are learned, vows FA

The Police Service of Northern Ireland has become the latest UK force to launch investigations into allegations of child abuse in football.

Officers said they had received a "small number" of reports of historic abuse at clubs.

A PSNI spokeswoman said: " We have had a very small number of allegations of non-recent child sexual abuse linked to football clubs.

"We work closely with all of the sporting bodies to ensure effective safeguarding is in place."

Democratic Unionist Gregory Campbell said the allegations must be rigorously investigated and has called for a co-ordinated approach.

The East Londonderry MP said: "The allegations of sexual abuse linked to football clubs are disturbing and it is vital they are fully investigated in a way that ensures full public confidence.

"Sports clubs, including the many football clubs in Northern Ireland are run largely by volunteers who give of their time freely and provide a very valuable service to the community.

"It is important that allegations made relating to Northern Ireland are properly and fully investigated so that perpetrators are brought to justice. It is obviously important that clubs have proper processes in place to ensure they are safe places for our young people."

In a statement the Irish Football Association (IFA) said: "The Irish FA will work fully with the police and relevant authorities on any allegations of abuse linked to football in Northern Ireland.

"The association would encourage anyone involved in football that has suffered abuse to call the NSPCC football hotline on 0800 023 2642."

Northern Ireland Children’s Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma said: "This announcement is a reminder for organisations who work with children, on the importance of having robust and up to date child protection policies and procedures in place, and to ensure that relevant support and checks are in place for all those who work with young people."

Meanwhile the English FA also said its review will "ensure that lessons are learned such that any identified failings are not repeated".

It made the pledge as it said a different lawyer would be leading the probe - Clive Sheldon QC instead of Kate Gallafent QC - "in the light of the increased scope of the review".

Outlining its terms of reference, it said: "The overriding objectives of the review are to ensure that any possible failings by the FA and clubs at the relevant time are brought to light and to ensure that lessons are learned such that any identified failings are not repeated."

The organisation said Mr Sheldon, whose past work includes several reviews involving child protection and safeguarding, will investigate "what steps the FA took to address safeguarding/child protection issues in the sport up until 2005, and to consider any failings by the FA at the time, in particular whether it failed to act appropriately to anything raised with it relating to child sexual abuse".

The announcement came as Championship club QPR became the latest to be drawn into the storm.

The west London club said it was aware of historical child abuse allegations involving former chief scout Chris Gieler and will co-operate with any investigations.

Mr Gieler left QPR in 2003 and died in 2004.

Clive Sheldon to lead review

The Football Association has announced that its review into child sexual abuse in football will be led by Clive Sheldon QC instead of Kate Gallafent QC "in the light of the increased scope of the review".

The FA initially appointed Gallafent to oversee an internal review into allegations of sex abuse by by former players but conceded at the time "a wide-ranging inquiry may be required in time".

That time appears to have come sooner than expected, with the scale of the issue growing by the day, and Gallafent has been replaced "with respect to her other professional commitments".

The FA note Sheldon's past work includes several investigatory reviews including matters of child protection and safeguarding.

He is also described as a specialist in high-profile discrimination claims and disputes involving public figures and senior executives.

The news came as the organisation outlined the full terms of reference for its review, which has been launched with no firm deadline - a result of the passage of time since the alleged abuse.

"The Review will commence immediately," said an FA statement.

"The findings of the Review will be reported to The FA Board. It is accepted that no final date can be agreed at this stage given the passage of time and the time it will take to recall files for review and to locate all those relevant people to interview who no longer work for The FA.

"The precise number of players, alleged abusers and clubs as yet is unknown. The FA has determined that it is necessary to instruct external leading counsel to conduct a review into what if anything The FA and clubs knew about these allegations at the relevant time, what action was taken or should have taken place;

"The FA continues to work closely with the relevant authorities and respects the on-going investigation by the police being coordinated by Operation Hydrant into childhood sexual abuse in football."

The formal purpose of the Sheldon investigation covers what was known, and the actions taken, by the FA from the 1970s through to a nominal end point of 2005.

The question of "what steps The FA took to address safeguarding/child protection issues in the sport up until 2005, and to consider any failings by The FA at the time, in particular whether it failed to act appropriately to anything raised with it relating to child sexual abuse" will be key.

The actions of individual clubs, from elite level down to grass roots, will also be assessed and their subsequent actions considered.

The statement adds "in the event the Review finds such steps to be lacking the Review will look to extend its scope".

Among nine 'agreed principles' are a commitment to providing the review "access to all the materials it seeks and which are within The FA's possession; where any material is not in The FA's possession, it will take all reasonable steps to obtain such material".

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