Scotland

SFA to establish football abuse review

child playing football Image copyright Thinkstock

The Scottish Football Association is to set up an "independent review" of child abuse allegations in football.

Several former players have come forward to say they were abused by people in positions of authority.

The SFA said it wanted to reassure people that football was a "safe and enjoyable environment for children".

It said the review would focus on "processes and procedures" in place both currently and historically in Scottish football.

Police forces across the UK, including Police Scotland, are investigating more than 80 potential suspects and 98 clubs in the abuse scandal that has rocked the game.

The SFA said it was "imperative that we take the necessary time and guidance" to ensure its review complemented the work of the police.

It said it has taken initial steps towards establishing an appropriate scope and terms of reference for the review.

And it pledged to ensure "organisational learning and development" is at the forefront of its responsibilities as the governing body for the national game".

It added: "The initial scoping phase will take place with involvement from all stakeholders into the New Year, and once established we will comment further at the appropriate time".

SFA chief executive Stewart Regan said: "Police Scotland has reaffirmed that it is the investigatory authority regarding reports of child sexual abuse in football.

"It is therefore crucial to draw the distinction between their ongoing investigation and what lessons football can learn from historic allegations."

The announcement of the review follows meetings between the SFA, police and representatives from PFA Scotland.

Image caption Allegations have been made against former youth coach Hugh Stevenson - pictured here in 1995, during his time at Ferguslie United - who died in 2004

On Friday, a BBC Scotland investigation revealed that former youth coach and referee Hugh Stevenson was allowed to carry on working in football for several years after being reported to police and the SFA over child sex offences.

And Jim McCafferty, a former youth coach who was the kit man for Celtic, Hibernian and Falkirk was arrested in Belfast after allegations were made against him.

Separately, allegations have also been made against coaches who were formerly involved with clubs including Motherwell, Partick Thistle and Rangers.

The allegations involve incidents said to have happened between the 1970s and early 1990s.

Scotland's deputy first minister, John Swinney, had been among those calling for the SFA to carry out an inquiry into abuse within football.

But opposition parties had called for the Scottish government, rather than the SFA, to take the lead on any inquiry.

'Right steps'

Responding to the SFA announcement, Mr Swinney told BBC Scotland: "It is very important that any allegation of historic child abuse is made to the police, and the police have the opportunity to investigate all of the circumstances to try to pursue a prosecution.

"But I welcome the steps that have been taken by the SFA to begin the process of undertaking an independent inquiry into these issues.

"All of us are concerned by the details that have emerged in recent days, and I think the SFA are taking the right steps to address those points."

The review was also welcomed by NSPCC Scotland, which has set up a specialist hotline to support and advise victims. The hotline was said to have received a "surge of calls" in its first week.

NSPCC Scotland's national head of service, Matt Forde, said: "It's vital that victims feel safe to come forward and that all allegations of abuse in football in Scotland are thoroughly investigated.

"The number of cases highlighted so far reveal the deeply disturbing extent of abuse that has been going on within football."

Scottish Conservative MSP Rachael Hamilton said that, so long as the review was "truly independent", it would help to ensure people can have confidence in Scotland's football governing body.

She added: "The key concern now for all the authorities must be to properly examine the allegations that have emerged in recent weeks. Those who have come forward deserve no less.

"Furthermore, prompt action will also give families the reassurance they need that football clubs are a safe environment for children."

Labour's Iain Gray said: "There will obviously be concerns about how independent an inquiry set up by an organisation to investigate itself can truly be, however we hope the inquiry can establish public confidence and deliver justice for survivors of historic abuse."

In England, the Football Association has already commissioned an independent investigation into the way it dealt with abuse allegations.

Anyone who may have been affected by abuse in football can contact Police Scotland or the specialist NSPCC helpline (0800 0232642)