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Best practice for handling child abuse investigations in sport

Children playing football on grass
Friday, 06 January 2017 By Richard Spafford, Carolyn Pepper, Casey Ryan

Over the last few years, we have seen some of the UK’s most iconic and well-known institutions and individuals being faced with allegations of historical sex abuse of young people. Particular attention is now focussed upon the world of football, which is currently facing a tidal wave of sex abuse allegations made by former football players.[1] Numerous police forces are reported to have begun investigations as a result of hundreds of people coming forward to report sex abuse in connection with football in the UK.[2] 

Allegations of historical sex abuse against an athletics coach who was convicted of indecent assault have re-emerged in the wake of the football scandal and experience tells us that the allegations are not likely to stop with athletics and football. After the Jimmy Savile scandal broke in the UK, allegations swiftly followed about other UK household names such as Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris. We know that sports outside the UK have also faced allegations of child sex abuse in the recent past – the Penn State football scandal and USA Gymnastics issues are just two examples. It would be no surprise if similar allegations were now to surface in respect of other sports, both in the UK and in other countries.

It this context, this article examines:

  • Why is this happening in sport and why now?

  • Recognition of sex abuse in the UK

  • Planning for possible child sex abuse allegations

  • What to do if an allegation is made

  • The investigation

  • Authors’ comment

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Written by

Richard Spafford

Richard Spafford

Richard is a partner at Reed Smith in London and was the lead lawyer on The Dame Janet Smith Review.

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Carolyn Pepper

Carolyn Pepper

Carolyn is a partner at Reed Smith in London and specialises in sensitive investigation work, media and intellectual property law.

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