FA rejected claims in 1997 documentary it wasn't protecting young from abuse

The Football Association rejected claims made in a 1997 television documentary, which featured Barry Bennell, that it had done little to protect youngsters from paedophiles in the sport.

The Channel 4 programme Dispatches, broadcast in January of that year, claimed child abusers were able to secure positions as coaches for school-age teams with little risk of discovery.

The programme, entitled Soccer's Foul Play, named the former Crewe Alexandra coach Bennell as one such paedophile while one of his former youth players Ian Ackley waived his anonymity to say he was one of his victims.

Two years earlier Bennell was sentenced in the United States to his first jail term for child sexual offences. He was arrested while on a 10-week tour of the United States when coaching a Staffordshire youth team and later jailed for four years after he admitted four counts of indecent assault on a young boy.

By September 1997, US authorities had deported Bennell to the UK and he was charged with more child sexual offences.

Less than a year later he pleaded guilty at Chester Crown Court to 23 counts of abuse relating to 15 complainants, including Mr Ackley.

Soccer's Foul Play also detailed the career of Keith Ketley, who was sentenced to 18 months after admitting indecently assaulting boys in a team he ran in Southend, Essex.

It said that despite this conviction, he was able to set up another team in Ipswich, Suffolk, on his release and gain FA affiliation.

The chairman of the Suffolk FA told Dispatches: "No checks would necessarily be made on (coaches') background unless we were particularly suspicious."

In a statement released at the time, the FA said: "The Football Association utterly refutes false allegations made by Channel Four's Dispatches programme that it has taken 'no steps' to ensure the protection of young players from 'predatory coaches'.

"On the contrary, the FA has been a prime mover among sporting governing bodies to get an effective screening process in place which aids child protection.

"Home Secretary Michael Howard has congratulated the FA on its initiatives and willingness to ensure that those working in youth football - either as employees or volunteers - are properly screened.

"The FA is committed to what could be a £1 million-plus programme of screening all those involved in youth football through its 43,000 affiliated clubs. It is the most comprehensive commitment to child protection ever undertaken in British sport."

It added the FA was taking legal advice over the claims of Dispatches.

The FA is currently conducting an independent widespread inquiry into allegations of historical child sexual abuse in the game.

Following Thursday's convictions of Bennell, the FA tweeted: "We want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the traumatic experience the victims and survivors have endured at the hands of this individual, and the bravery they have shown in coming forward.

"We continue to signpost those who have suffered in this way to speak to Clive Sheldon QC whose team is conducting the independent inquiry into allegations of non-recent child sexual abuse in football."

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