London, Dec 9, 2016 (AFP) – Police have identified 83 potential suspects in the child sex abuse scandal that has rocked English football and believe 98 clubs from all levels have been ‘impacted’, the National Police Chiefs Council revealed on Friday.
The scandal — in which two men have been charged with sex abuse although several of the coaches against whom allegations have been made are out of reach as they are now dead — has seen over a third of all British police forces launch investigations.
The NPCC added that 98 percent of the victims, believed to total 350, are male with their ages at the time of the alleged abuse ranging from seven to 20.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said the figures reflected the seriousness of the scandal.
“These shocking numbers now identified by police reveal the deeply disturbing extent of abuse that has been going on within football,” said an NSPCC spokesman.
The NPCC said all calls were being treated seriously — a total of 639 referrals have been relayed to Operation Hydrant which is the overall police investigation into historic sex abuse and who analyse the claims — and being dealt with as quickly as possible.
“We are ensuring an efficient and effective service-wide approach to investigating allegations, removing the potential for duplication and enabling the timely and effective sharing of intelligence and information between forces,” said Simon Bailey, the lead for the NPCC on child protection.
“We are also liaising closely with the Football Association to ensure all relevant information they hold is shared to inform investigations moving forward.
“As the number of calls being received across the service is higher than usual, it may take longer than normal for an officer from a local force to make contact to follow up from the initial call.”
There were further revelations on Friday about Southampton, one of the clubs most heavily implicated in what FA chairman Greg Clarke has termed the greatest crisis he can recall in English football.
Dave Merrington, who is supporting all the Saints players — believed to be as many as 12 — who have made claims against former youth coach Bob Higgins, says he became aware things weren’t right in 1989 when he was youth team boss.
Merrington — who went on to manage the club from 1995-96 — says he confronted Higgins, who was cleared of sex abuse charges in 1992 and has denied any wrongdoing since the latest slew of allegations poured forth, about what he had heard.
Southampton are being sued by former players over the abuse they claim they suffered at the hands of Higgins — who the Football League, the police and social services warned football clubs, schools and youth groups in 1989 that he was a danger to children.
“In the minibus on the way back from a game, I overheard players making sexual innuendos abut Higgins,” he told Sunsport.
“I knew then there was something wrong and told the manager (Chris Nicholl), ‘We need to sort this out. It’s quite serious and you’ve got to let the board deal with it.'”
Nicholl told Merrington the matter had been reported to the police but then came back to him and said someone should talk to Higgins and he thought Merrington was best placed to do so.
“I spoke to Bob privately on my own,” said Merrington.
“He got very annoyed when I said to him, ‘Look I’ve got to tell you I’m not happy with what I’ve heard, the players making comments about you.
“He flew off the handle, got very annoyed and stormed out of the room.
“About two weeks later he left.”