Child abuse in football and sport

As of 29 March 2018:

  • 849 alleged victims of childhood sexual abuse
  • 300 named suspects
  • 2,807 incidents reported
  • 340 clubs impacted

These are the shocking figures that have come forward since November 2016 in relation to child sexual abuse within football. Sadly, we know at Bolt Burdon Kemp that abuse does not take place just within football but within every sport wherever there is an adult in a position of trust over a child.

Our specialist child abuse solicitors at Bolt Burdon Kemp can help you make a claim if you have been abused within a sport setting. Get in touch with our team of leading lawyers and we can help you through this difficult process. We act for the vast majority of clients on a no win, no fee basis and we also act in some matters on a legal aid basis. Although we are based in London, we have clients all over the globe and are happy to travel to see clients or for them to see us in London.

Reporting abuse to the police

If you or your child has been abused, we would recommend you to report these crimes to the police as soon as possible. It is best to ask to speak to the Child Protection Unit, where you will find specialised police officers who will deal with your allegations with care and they will look to investigate your allegations.

To find out more about reporting or disclosing child abuse and the information that the police will want to know, please read our guide.

Making a claim

If you were abused by someone within a sport setting, you may wish to consider a claim against the individual who committed the offences against you. We will investigate whether this person has sufficient assets with which to pay you compensation.

It is also possible in certain circumstances to bring a claim against the institution that employed the abuser. This is often the more preferable option because the institution will usually have an insurance policy to pay you compensation. We can rely on the principle of vicarious liability to establish that the institution is responsible for the actions that its staff carried out during their roles within the organisation. We do this by obtaining evidence such as witness statements to prove that the abuser took advantage of their position of authority to abuse you.

For a lot of our clients, they feel that the sport club shares a great deal of blame for hiring the person who committed these despicable acts.

Negligence

In addition to, or instead of, the principle of vicarious liability, there may be evidence that the sports club was negligent in its duty of care to you and as a result you suffered abuse because of its failings. For example, if you disclosed to a member of staff that you were being abused, or it should have been known that you were being abused, and they failed to act to stop it, or if the abuser had previous convictions for sexual offences, this is clear evidence of negligence. It would mean that the abuser should never have come into contact with you and the abuse you suffered could have been prevented.

Are there any time limits?

Technically speaking you are supposed to issue your claim at court within three years of being abused, or if it occurred when you were a child, you have until your 21st birthday to bring a claim for compensation. However, the courts appreciate and recognise in abuse cases that this is often not possible and as a result our clients are often out of time to bring their claim. There are many reasons as to why it might not be possible to bring a claim before your 21st birthday, for example, due to mental health conditions or survivors may feel embarrassed or ashamed at what has happened to them. This is completely normal and to be expected given the abuse that you have suffered.

The court, therefore, has discretion to extend the time limit and allow claims to be brought outside this deadline even if many years have since passed. We will work with you to explain to the court why your claim should be allowed to proceed out of time and why you should be awarded compensation for what has happened to you.

At Bolt Burdon Kemp we are proud to have represented clients whose claims have succeeded despite being decades out of time.

How can Bolt Burdon Kemp help?

As we specialise in child abuse cases, we understand discussing the abuse you have suffered can be extremely upsetting. We also appreciate that no amount of compensation will ever be enough to compensate you for what has happened and the impact it has had on your life.

We will strive to ensure you obtain the justice and closure that you deserve and this includes:

  1.  An acceptance that the abuse took place where possible
  2. An admission of responsibility where possible
  3. An appreciation of the impact of the abuse on your life, to include your education, earning capacity, excess alcohol expenditure, self-harm scars, therapy needs and more. We will provide you with specialist medical experts who will help us assess how the abuse has affected your life.
  4. An apology where possible

Success stories

  • Sexual abuse at Cumberland Lawn Tennis Club

We represented two clients who had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Bill Blake, a tennis coach at the Cumberland Lawn Tennis Club in West Hampstead, London.

The abuse took place between approximately 1964 and 1976 when our clients were aged 8 and 7 respectively.

The abuser died in the 1990s and as a result we faced substantial issues to not only prove the abuse took place but to also bring these cases “out of time”.  The vast majority of documents had been destroyed and potential witnesses had either died or were untraceable.  Despite this, we were able to reach settlements for both cases and to also obtain a face-to-face and written apology from the club.

  • Chelsea Football Club settle claim for compensation for abuse by Eddie Heath

Chelsea football club have settled a claim from an individual who was sexually abused by Eddie Heath in the 1960’s.

Heath was a football scout for the club.  He scouted our client and brought him to Chelsea.  Due to his power as a scout many children that he abused did not disclose the abuse they suffered at the hands of Heath at the time.

Heath is now dead but an external review led by Charles Geekie QC found fault with the club for “turning a blind eye” to the abuse at the hands of Heath.  After providing evidence for the report, our client approached Bolt Burdon Kemp to bring a claim for compensation.

To Chelsea’s credit, they dealt with his claim in a swift and fair manner and offered a face to face apology with the Club’s present chairman.  It has also provided therapeutic support to those abused by Heath.

Whilst the above actions will never change the Club’s attitude at the time of Heath’s abuse, it shows that they are now taking allegations of abuse seriously.  They are also remembering to put survivors of Heath front and centre of the claim for compensation.

Chelsea’s attitude is certainly refreshing in light of the way other football clubs are approaching claims for compensation at the hands of their employees. Read more about our experience against the club in Rebecca Sheriff’s blog post.

  • Southampton FC pays compensation for yet another individual abused by Bob Higgins

Southampton FC have agreed to pay our client a five figure sum for the abuse suffered whilst he was in the youth team. Our client is one in a long line of children that Higgins abused. Higgins used his sway as a football scout and coach to tell children that he had the power to make them premier league footballers. Using this, he would abuse children.

Higgins continued to behave in this way for decades. Whilst the children suspected what he was doing was wrong the grooming tactics he employed meant that they were often too afraid to tell their parents. Higgins was recently jailed for a string of abuse offences against. It is likely that there are more individuals who were abused by Higgins but have yet to come forward.

  • Settlement for abuse by gym coach Leonard Hollis of Child Hill Gym Club

Our client instructed BBK to claim damages from British Gymnastics for the sexual abuse she had suffered in approximately 1984/1985 by her gymnastics coach, Leonard Hollis, whilst she was a member of Childs Hill Gymnastic Club when she was around 9/10 years old.

Despite her young age and the trauma she suffered as a result of the sexual assaults, she immediately reported the abuse to her parents.  In turn, they reported the abuse to the police.  She was then subjected to a completely unnecessary and humiliating physical examination by the police who then concluded that as there was no physical evidence or witnesses to the actual assaults, they were unable to prosecute Hollis.

After disclosing the abuse, our client endured bullying and was ostracised by fellow pupils and staff who all disbelieved her.  Her mother made many attempts to obtain justice for her at the time, but sadly she was ultimately unsuccessful.

In early 2015, our client saw a newspaper article online, which confirmed Hollis had been convicted in 2011 of indecently assaulting another gymnast.  This empowered our client to report her own abuse to the police once more and to reach out to BBK.  The CPS authorised charging Hollis with one charge of indecent assault against our client but in 2017, before he could stand trial and be brought to justice, Hollis died.

One of the initial challenges in bringing our client’s civil claim was identifying the correct Defendant and establishing who could be held legally responsible for Hollis’s crimes.  Extensive research showed that since the 1980s the gymnastics club had been the subject of numerous restructures, however our investigations led us to pursue the British Amateur Gymnastics Association, which in 1997 had become British Gymnastics, the governing body for gymnastics in the UK.

British Gymnastics subsequently admitted liability for the sexual assaults perpetrated against our client by Hollis.  The important journey to obtain compensation for our client culminated in a joint settlement meeting in March 2020.  The parties agreed to a remarkable sum of compensation for our client.  This was a fantastic outcome and our client was delighted.  Our client commented “Thanks entirely to your support and intervention I am able to move past the abuse and towards a more fulfilled life on my own terms and not a life of addiction in the dark”.

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