A Premier League club made secret payments to a former footballer, preventing him going public with allegations of rape at the hands of a youth team coach, The Telegraph can disclose.
The compensation was signed off in the last two years after the player made a complaint to the club and to the Metropolitan Police. Separate sources have said the victim was convinced other young footballers at the time were also abused by the coach.
The former player was on the verge of speaking openly about his claims – which could have prompted other victims to come forward – when the football club made an offer of compensation that was bound up in strict confidentiality clauses.
The deal prevents the victim, his family or his legal team from even acknowledging the existence of the case.
The sexual abuse is understood to have taken place in the 1970s but Scotland Yard was informed of the abuse only recently, after revelations about Jimmy Savile, the BBC presenter.
A source said: “The club made sure the deal contained a very, very strict confidentiality agreement. We are talking very serious offences. The club completely buried it.
“The victim was abused in the 1970s but he only reported it to the police in the wake of Jimmy Savile.
“He was convinced the same coach sexually assaulted other boys but the case was settled before the allegations were ever made public.
“The Met police took a look at it but they didn’t get very far because the coach was deceased.”
A senior police officer has told The Telegraph that Scotland Yard was ill-equipped to deal with such a complaint because at the time it was completely focused on pursuing allegations of a paedophile ring inside Westminster, which proved to be false.
Watch | Football abuse victim speaks out: We went through hell
A senior officer at Scotland Yard said police had been overwhelmed with cases in the wake of revelations about Savile, the most prolific sex offender in history. But the officer complained that police had also overlooked sexual abuse in sport because it had become obsessed with offending by celebrities and politicians.
“Senior commanders were completely obsessed with allegations of a paedophile ring killing, torturing and raping children in Westminster,” said the source. “But those allegations were completely false. Detectives should have been looking at cases in sport.”
The paedophile scandal threatening to engulf football began with the public disclosure by Andy Woodward, a former player, that he had been abused by Barry Bennell, who had been a coach with Crewe Alexandra. Bennell has been jailed on three separate occasions for sex offences against boys.
A number of other footballers have since spoken out, including Paul Stewart, a former England striker. As a result, four police forces – Cheshire, Northumbria, Hampshire and the Metropolitan Police – have announced investigations into allegations of sexual abuse at football clubs.
A Telegraph investigation has found that more than 20 football coaches have been jailed for abusing youngsters in their clubs in the past 10 years, including Jim Torbett, the founder of Celtic Boy’s Club, which is a feeder club for Celtic and produced international players.
Torbett, a millionaire businessman, used his position as coach to molest three boys, including Alan Brazil, who became a Manchester United, Tottenham Hotspur and Scotland striker.
Another youth coach, John Denham, from Wiltshire, originally called Ben Harrop, was part of a paedophile gang who raped and abused babies, toddlers and children in attacks that were then streamed on the internet for other sex abusers to watch.
Damian Collins, chairman of the parliamentary committee on culture, media and sport, said the Telegraph’s revelations that a former player had been paid off made a “compelling” case for the Football Association to hold a judge-led inquiry.
Mr Collins suggested the inquiry should be paid for by the FA but conducted independently. “It must look at how clubs have dealt with child sexual abuse in the past,” he said.
It was claimed that Crewe had been warned about Bennell’s behaviour but that the coach was allowed to continue working at the club for several more years.
Concerns were raised with the FA about Bennell in 2001 but the governing body concluded there was “no case to answer”.
The FA said yesterday its priority remained assisting the police with their inquiries and supporting the victims but Greg Clarke, the chairman, has already made it clear he would “take any action necessary” in relation to the scandal at Crewe.
One lawyer, who specialises in child sex abuse cases, said clubs that had settled cases with claimants and had bound deals up in strict confidentiality rules risked being investigated for perverting the course of justice if they had prevented police from carrying out inquiries as a result.
The allegations of historical child sex abuse in football could also now spread to other sports, claimed Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection.
Mr Bailey said: “I am not in the least bit surprised that we are now seeing the lid lifted on exploitation within the world of football and I suspect there will be other sporting governing bodies – again in the next few days and weeks – who will come forward and who will identify the fact that they have similar problems.”
The NSPCC has launched a hotline for sexual abuse victims. It is available 24 hours a day on 0800 023 2642.
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