SFA to set up independent review into child sex abuse claims

Scottish FA's Stewart Regan. Picture: John Devlin
Scottish FA's Stewart Regan. Picture: John Devlin
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An independent inquiry is to be held into historical allegations of child abuse which have rocked Scottish football in recent weeks.

The SFA last night confirmed that moves are under way to establish an investigation after a number of senior clubs, including Celtic, Rangers and Hibs, have been embroiled in claims involving former coaches and staff stretching back decades.

A string of former players have spoken out north and south of the Border to reveal they were victims of abuse.

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

The full scope of the review has yet to be established to ensure it does not conflict with current police inquiries.

More than 80 potential suspects and 98 clubs are being investigated by police forces across the UK, including Police Scotland.

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.”

It emerged over the weekend 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 in connection with child sex offences.

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

SFA chiefs held talks yesterday with representatives from Police Scotland and the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) to discuss its support for the criminal investigations which are being conducted into the claims of historic abuse.

It was announced afterwards that the “initial steps” have been taken to establish the scope and terms of reference for the review.

A statement released afterwards stated: “The initial scoping phase will take place with involvement from all stakeholders into the New Year, and once established we will comment further.

“Both the Scottish FA and PFA Scotland are committed to working together to support Police Scotland in appealing to anyone with information to report child sexual abuse in Scottish football, and to provide a safe and confidential environment in which to do so.”

The move follows pressure from various quarters, including Deputy First Minister John Swinney and former justice minister Cathy Jamieson, who had called on the Scottish Football Association to establish an independent inquiry into claims of abuse at Scottish clubs.

Mr Swinney last night welcomed the inquiry.

He said: “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.

“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.”

Scottish Conservative MSP Rachael Hamilton also backed the move.

“So long as it is truly independent, it will help to ensure people can have confidence in Scotland’s football governing body,” she said.

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

The NSPCC has launched a dedicated helpline on 0800 023 2642.