Leader comment: All victims of abuse must have equal justice

Former footballers and victims of abuse Mark Williams, Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and Jason Dunford at the launch of The Offside Trust to help victims of abuse. Picture: Getty Images
Former footballers and victims of abuse Mark Williams, Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and Jason Dunford at the launch of The Offside Trust to help victims of abuse. Picture: Getty Images
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The extent of the abuse in football is now revealed as truly shocking, with 83 potential suspects and 98 clubs involved at the latest count from the National Police Chiefs’ Council, with the investigations spanning all tiers of football. And there can be little doubt that the tally will grow. Police forces across the country are continuing to receive calls.

It all started with ex-Crewe defender Andy Woodward who waived his right to anonymity to reveal he had been a victim of sexual abuse as a young footballer. He and all the other the victims that have now come forward are to be praised for their courage in doing so. What is vital now is that they should not be failed by the authorities.

So the question is how best to support them, and help them find justice.

And there is also the matter of giving parents of children who are currently involved in sport confidence that their children are not at risk. To that end, English Premier League chief Richard Scudamore has written to the parents of more than 3,000 players in the league’s youth system to reassure them. Perhaps that could be mirrored in Scotland.

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

In his view, police inquiries have significant limitations and that these people too are the victims of institutional failure.

His intervention comes after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon rejected calls for the current inquiry into the abuse of children in care to be widened to take in the allegations around football, saying it should be left to the police.

She was concerned that the current inquiry would become unwieldly if it was expanded, and it could take much longer to arrive at findings.

That inquiry has already had to overcome some hurdles and has seen two key members leave, but is now under the direction of the experienced judge Lady Smith and is making progress.

On the face of it there is little difference between the victims involved in the current inquiry and those that have come forward, and continue to come forward, as a result of abuse of football clubs. But there are some considerations that need to be made. The biggest is the practical issues any widening would throw up. There is little doubt that the First Minister is right in her fears over how big the inquiry would become, and any further delay might mean justice denied for some of the people involved given that some are now of advanced years.

Nobody would suggest that different standards should be applied to the two sets of victims. That would be wrong. But in the circumstances, it would also be wrong to extend the present inquiry. The best course of action to give the best support and help to all is to continue the police investigation into abuse within football, and then once evidence has been gathered, consider an independent inquiry into that as well. There can be little practical benefit from combining the inquiries, and there are huge potential downsides.