Child abuse investigation spreads to county football

    POLICE are ‘reviewing’ cases of historic child abuse alleged to have occurred within Kent football clubs and are encouraging any other potential victims to come forward as the ongoing scandal engulfs the sport at a local level.

    The confirmation comes as Kent Police released a statement to say they will also help residents of the county who may have been abused elsewhere in the country.

    Although the force has said they will not be releasing specific figures on the number of reports received, or which county clubs are being looked at, they did confirm the reports had been received in recent weeks since the scandal broke nationally.

    A spokesman said: “Kent Police has received reports of non-recent child abuse within the football community in Kent, which it is currently reviewing.

    “Should victims come forward to Kent Police to report incidents that have taken place elsewhere in the country then we will support them appropriately, but the investigation of those offences would be carried out by the police force that covers the area where the abuse is reported to have occurred.”

    Complaints of historic child abuse are being handled by the NSPCC before being passed on to Kent Police.

    This reflects national procedures, which have seen the child welfare charity receive almost 1,000 calls to its football hotline since it was launched on November 23.

    Support for victims is also being provided by newly-formed The Offside Trust which was set up by former footballers Andy Woodward (pictured), Steve Walters and Chris Unsworth, whom themselves suffered abuse.

    Nationally, the investigations have been overseen by Operation Hydrant, the national police body coordinating historical sex abuse claims that was set up in 2014.

    On Saturday a source at the National Police Chief’s council confirmed a total of 55 clubs had so far been referenced.

    A spokesman for the NSPCC said: “The extent of abuse which has been hidden in our national game over the years is shocking and has rocked the sporting world to its core.

    “Sadly the number of allegations made so far is likely to be the tip of the iceberg as there may be many others who suffered such horrors as young players but have never come forward.

    “We know men are less likely to speak up about abuse but what’s important is that people continue to feel able to come forward and get the help and support they need.”

    A spokesperson for Kent Football Association said: “We have not been approached by Kent Police with regards to their investigation which was announced on Friday.

    “Kent FA is the local governing body for grassroots football in Kent, and if contacted by the police, we will be more than happy to support their ongoing investigations.

    “The FA, which looks after the Professional game in England, continues to work closely with the relevant authorities and respects the on-going investigation by the police being coordinated by Operation Hydrant into childhood sexual abuse in football.”

    The NSPCC and FA is urging players and others involved in football from grassroots to Premier League to contact the NSPCC’s dedicated hotline – 0800 023 2642 – which has been set up to offer support and guidance to victims of child sex abuse within the world of football.