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 By PA Sport

Football's independent review into child sexual abuse calls for information

Mark Williams, Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and Jason Dunford stand before a press conference at the launch of The Offside Trust.
Mark Williams, Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and Jason Dunford at the launch of The Offside Trust.

The independent review into allegations of child abuse in football has made its first call for evidence.

Set up by the Football Association and led by Clive Sheldon QC, the review has written to all football clubs in England and Wales, both amateur and professional, asking for information about allegations of child sexual abuse between 1970 and 2005.

The clubs have been given until March 15 to respond but, in the meantime, the review is also inviting any individuals with information to send it by email to football@sportresolutions.co.uk.

Sport Resolutions, the independent arbitration service for sport in the UK, is providing back-office support for Sheldon's inquiry, with further legal assistance coming from 11KBW Chambers and expert advice from child protection specialist Dr Mike Hartill.

In a statement, the independent review said all correspondence will be treated in confidence but allegations of criminal behaviour will be forwarded to Operation Hydrant, the unit coordinating police investigations into child sexual abuse across the UK.

The review also reminded anyone who experienced abuse as a young footballer that the NSPCC has a dedicated helpline that can be reached 24 hours a day at 0800 023 2642.

The FA asked Sheldon to lead the review following a tidal wave of allegations about historic abuse in the game that started in November when former player Andy Woodward told the Guardian about his experiences in the 1980s.

That prompted several other former players to come forward with their own harrowing stories, and within a matter of weeks the scandal had spread throughout the UK.

The most recent figures from the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) on Dec. 22 revealed that 429 new victims of child sexual abuse in football have been identified, with 148 clubs involved and 155 suspects.

But the sheer weight of calls and emails -- the NPCC said it had received 819 referrals from police forces and the NSPCC helpline -- has meant many victims have had to wait for more than a month for a police interview or even a follow-up call.

Press Association Sport reports that most of the first wave of victims to come forward and speak publicly about their ordeals have now been interviewed by specialist police officers, but they waited an average of six weeks to do so.

Several victims have said the police, who were already stretched by the number of cases that emerged after Jimmy Savile's appalling activities were exposed, have been inundated with leads and are struggling with the backlog.

Those who have now given evidence have praised the police for their diligence and sensitivity, but frustration is mounting for those still waiting.

Dino Nocivelli, a lawyer who specialises in child abuse for Bolt, Burdon and Kemp, told PA Sport that the delays were a major cause for concern, with some police forces being "awful" in terms of how quickly they investigate historic abuse allegations.

"You are talking about people who are already very vulnerable, so any delay can make some victims wonder if they will ever be listened to -- some simply disengage," Nocivelli said.

"But there is also the harm these delays can cause. Victims often cannot sleep, they can feel depressed, some resort to drink and drugs.

"And then there is a risk of their evidence being contaminated. I hope the police are warning them about that because we can see that they are talking to each other and a clever defence lawyer could have a field day with that."

He added: "There's also a postcode lottery element to this. Some forces we know are awful."

Nocivelli also said he had reservations about this independent review working as it looked like football was investigating itself.

He said it was "disheartening" that the wider public inquiry into child abuse in public institutions has said so little about football's growing caseload.

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