Scotland politics

Civil rights lawyer calls for football abuse inquiry

Raju Bhatt
Image caption Raju Bhatt said the police inquiry into allegations of abuse had to be allowed to take its course

A leading civil rights lawyer has backed calls for an inquiry into child abuse in Scottish football.

Raju Bhatt, who sat on the independent panel into the Hillsborough disaster, said failure to do so would be a betrayal of the victims.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has already rejected calls for a current inquiry into the abuse of children in care to be widened.

She said it should be down to the police to probe football abuse claims.

The National Police Chiefs Council has said there are now 83 potential suspects and 98 clubs involved across the UK involved in investigations into child abuse in football across the UK.

The investigations span all tiers of football, "from premier clubs through to amateur", police chiefs said.

In calling for a public inquiry into the allegations, Mr Bhatt told BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme that police inquiries had significant limitations.

'Institutionalised failure'

He said: "The purpose of an inquiry in these circumstance is to address the clear grounds for suspicion that those in authority may have failed the most vulnerable in our communities, our children.

"The inquiry is required to address that suspicion, to allay that suspicion if there is no evidence, but also to identify those culpable if there is evidence.

"The police inquiry has to be allowed to take its course, but it may not necessarily be wide enough to look at the way in which there may have been institutionalised failure here.

Image caption The first minister wants the inquiry to concentrate on children in care

"The police inquiry will be looking at the culpability of individuals, but we are looking in effect here at an institution that may have failed - the way in which our football clubs have been working and the police inquiry may not be fit for that purpose."

Mr Bhatt said the current inquiry set up by the Scottish government into allegations of abuse of children in care should be allowed to run its course before any inquiry into abuse in football began.

He said to add the latest allegations to its remit would be "crippling".

'Completely unwieldy'

His comments follow those of Nicola Sturgeon on Thursday, who said during First Minister's Questions that it was impractical to widen the current inquiry.

She said: "To widen the remit of that inquiry would mean that it would take perhaps many years longer to conclude its investigations and would risk it becoming completely unwieldy.

"We would be at risk I think of breaking our word to the survivors of in-care abuse.

"My view is we should allow that inquiry to get on with its job and we should allow the police to get on with their job of investigating allegations of abuse in football."

The Scottish Football Association has said it is part of a task force set up to co-ordinate complaints and information relating to child abuse within the game.

It said Police Scotland was taking the lead and all information received was being passed on to them.

The SFA said it was not currently backing the idea of an independent inquiry, but may look at the proposal again after police have gathered evidence.

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