Chris Marshall: Double standards are failing child abuse survivors

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.
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.
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When Andy Woodward last month chose to waive his anonymity and speak out about the abuse he suffered as a youth footballer, he lifted the lid off a scandal which now shows no sign of abating.

Since the former Crewe and Sheffield United player broke his silence, many more survivors have found the strength to come forward and by last week police had identified 83 potential suspects and 98 clubs implicated in an issue which affects all levels of the game across the UK.

In Scotland, allegations have been made against Hugh Stevenson, a now dead former youth coach and referee who is said to have continued working in football despite concerns being raised with both Strathclyde Police and the Scottish Football Association (SFA).

Partick Thistle have identified a historical allegation of abuse against former club physiotherapist John Hart, who has since died, while Motherwell, where Mr Park also worked, have launched their own investigation.

Allegations have also been made against Gordon Neely, a former Rangers and Hibs coach who died two years ago.

Yesterday the SFA confirmed it will set up an independent review to look at abuse allegations.

While it’s unclear what the outcome of the review will be, one thing seems certain – there are many more survivors out there currently finding the courage to come forward and report what happened to them.

Just like abuse within the Catholic Church or the Jimmy Savile case, victims will find succour in the shared experience of those who suffered like they did.

They will also benefit from a police service, media and public at large willing to take seriously allegations of abuse in a way that was sadly not the case 20 or 30 years ago.

Asked about the issue of abuse in football at the weekend, education secretary John Swinney was clear – the SFA must set up an independent inquiry to look into the issue.

Mr Swinney was absolutely correct in his judgment.

But in the course of a short TV interview, Mr Swinney offered the sort of hope to one group of survivors which he has repeatedly denied others.

The education secretary last month told the Scottish Parliament he would not alter the remit of the judge-led Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry to cover all those organisations which had a duty of care to young people.

In refusing to extend the inquiry’s remit, the minister averred that to do so would unduly lengthen a process already scheduled to take four years to conclude.

Many survivors would argue that having waited decades for some accountability, adding another year to the inquiry would not unduly trouble them.

In backing an inquiry into football abuse, Mr Swinney has now effectively signalled that some survivors are more important than others.

We now have a situation where those abused while in the care of a boarding school or a football team will have an opportunity to be heard, while those preyed upon by paedophile priests or Scout leaders will not.

That simply should not be the case.

For decades we have failed the survivors of child abuse. Yet now they finally have our ear, we risk failing them all over again.