London, Dec 1, 2016 (AFP) -Around 350 people have come forward to tell British police they were victims of child sexual abuse by football coaches, deepening a scandal that has rocked the sport.
The scale of the abuse began to emerge last week after a string of ex-footballers, including England internationals, told of the crimes inflicted upon them, including years of being repeatedly raped.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council said a “significant” number of calls had been made to them after the players spoke out about what they suffered as children.
Announcing the figures, the NPCC said they were based on existing investigations dating back to 2014 as well as a new helpline set up by British charity the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC).
The NSPCC said the helpline received 860 calls in its first week, enabling it to refer 60 cases to police or social services within three days of the hotline launching.
That was more than triple the number of referrals made in the first three days of the helpline set up for victims of Jimmy Savile, a serial paedophile and late BBC television presenter.
“We are working closely with the Football Association to ensure that the response to this significant and growing number of victims, at all levels of football, is co-ordinated effectively,” said Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the NPCC’s lead officer for child protection.
He encouraged anyone with information about child abuse in football to come forward, “regardless of how long ago the abuse may have taken place”.
A quarter of the police forces across Britain are investigating cases that have made daily headlines over the past two weeks.
Greater Manchester Police said they had identified 10 suspects and its inquiry was widening on a daily basis.
“We are investigating reports from 35 victims and we have identified 10 suspects,” said GMP Assistant Chief Constable Debbie Ford.
FA chief executive Martin Glenn said on Thursday he does not believe child abuse within British football has been covered up.
“It will help uncover some issues that can’t happen again, but do I think there has been a cover-up? I doubt it,” said Glenn, whose organisation has established an internal review of the allegations.
The scale of the abuse began to emerge after ex-footballers Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and Paul Stewart revealed last week the abuse they suffered at the hands of youth coaches.
Convicted child molester Barry Bennell has been accused by several footballers of abusing them when he worked for Crewe Alexandra, Manchester City and Stoke City across three decades beginning in the 1970s.
He is the target of five separate police investigations and on Tuesday was charged with eight counts of child abuse, prosecutors said.
Former Newcastle United player David Eatock is the latest player to speak out about his suffering.
Now 40, he said he had been a victim of former youth coach George Ormond, who was sentenced to six years in jail in 2002 for offences committed over almost 25 years.
“One of the more difficult parts for me is that I wasn’t as young as some of the others,” Eatock told The Guardian newspaper.
“I was 18 when I got to know George Ormond. I can still remember the look on his face, how terrifying it was.”
He added: “It has been like a knot in my brain and I’m now trying to pick apart that knot.”
Premier League leaders Chelsea have opened an investigation following newspaper claims that they bought the silence of a former player who said he was abused by a club scout during the 1970s.
Glenn said the FA would come down hard on any club found to have hushed up reports of abuse.
“FA chairman Greg Clarke is committed to a full review, shining a torch on what has happened in the past in football,” he told reporters at Wembley to unveil new England manager Gareth Southgate.
“If there has been evidence of hushing up, when it’s our turn to apply the rules we absolutely will, regardless of the size of club.”