Top police officer predicts surge in football abuse cases

A large number of alleged victims of child sex abuse in football have yet to break their silence, a senior police chief has predicted, and he believes the scandal could also engulf other British sports.

Simon Bailey, the chief constable of Norfolk Constabulary and the National Police Chiefs Council’s lead for child protection, said yesterday that a “significant” number of victims were likely to emerge, and warned that other sports’ governing bodies may start reporting similarly shocking claims.

His comments came as Operation Hydrant, which investigates allegations of historical child sex abuse within institutions or by people of public prominence, also attempted to calculate the scale of the alleged abuse.

The national inquiry into child sexual abuse has already contacted all forces in England and Wales asking them to urgently forward details of any allegations they have recently received.

Scotland Yard, Northumberland police, Cheshire police and Hampshire police have launched separate investigations after a string of former footballers came forward following the Guardian revelation that former footballer Andy Woodward, 43, had suffered at the hands of convicted child abuser Barry Bennell, a former coach at Crewe Alexandra.

On Saturday the Guardian revealed that Crewe Alexandra had been warned that Bennell had sexually abused one of his junior footballers, but had allowed him to stay at the club for a number of years.

Despite being pressed for a statement, Crewe refused to comment on Saturday, although the club has previously said it would conduct an internal investigation into the allegations.

Elsewhere, the quest to track down further alleged victims of Bennell and other paedophiles in the sport continued. The Football Association has contacted each county FA in England and Wales, asking them to forward any information to a special hotline. England captain Wayne Rooney has also urged anyone who may have been abused to seek help, while former Wales international Robbie Savage, who played for Crewe between 1994 and 1997, speculated that there could be hundreds of victims of sexual abuse in football.

Bailey said: “I suspect that in the next few days and weeks we will see a significant increase in the numbers that are currently reporting allegations of abuse to us.

“We are receiving reports of abuse in all sorts of different institutions. 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.”

Some of the claims have come from children’s charity the NSPCC, which last week set up a dedicated hotline – 0800 023 2642 – for football-related cases. The Premier League has said it is “very concerned” by the allegations.

On Friday, former players Steve Walters, Chris Unsworth and Jason Dunford spoke about being abused by Bennell in an emotional interview on Victoria Derbyshire’s BBC programme.

Former Manchester City youth team player Dunford said the scandal was bigger than the Jimmy Savile revelations. Police have put the total number of Savile’s possible victims at 589.

Bennell, who worked for Crewe, Manchester City, Stoke and junior teams in north-west England and the Midlands, abused young boys from the 1970s onwards. He was jailed for four years for raping a British boy on a 1994 football tour of Florida, and given a nine-year sentence for 23 offences against six boys in England in 1998. Bennell was jailed for a third time in 2015 after admitting abusing a boy at a 1980 football camp in Macclesfield.