Lancashire at the heart of football sex abuse scandal

VICTIM: David Lean
VICTIM: David Lean
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The first ex-player to blow the whistle on abuse in football after 30 years of silence saw his career derailed by the nightmares from his childhood and ended working as a police officer in the county.

And a former professional footballer, now living in Lytham, has also broken his silence to claim historical justice.

EMOTIONAL INTERVIEW: David Lean Picture:  Sky News

EMOTIONAL INTERVIEW: David Lean Picture: Sky News

Today we look in detail at an investigation which could eclipse the Jimmy Savile inquiry for the number of its victims and offenders and ask the question: Has football changed since the 1980s?

Former footballer David Lean is ready to turn his life around after breaking his 30-year silence as a victim of sex abuse.

The ex-Preston North End reserve player is finally looking forward – to a dream Christmas wedding – rather than back on his childhood nightmare at the hands of a convicted paedophile.

David, now 49, is one of a number of former footballers who have waived their anonymity and gone public in an abuse scandal which has rocked the game.

Speaking to the Gazette, he revealed the heartbreak of keeping the abuse a secret, especially from his parents.

He kept quiet until after his mum died, fearing the revelation would “destroy” her. And he only told his dad just days before he too died.

At his mother’s funeral in 2013 David gave a speech and in it he said: “It’s time I told my secret, mum.”

Five days later he drove from his home in Lytham to a Cheshire Police Station and broke his silence about the horrific abuse he suffered at the hands of a football coach.

But it would take a two-and-a-half year battle before David, 49, saw his abuser jailed.

He was initially told no charges would be laid against his abuser but the decision was eventually overturned and he was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in 2015.

The dad-of-two, who now works for a gym in Fylde, was propelled into the limelight when he bravely waived his anonymity to raise awareness of abuse in the sports world.

Choked with tears, he revealed he did not want to come forward until his mother had died because the revelations would have destroyed her.

He recalls: “ On the Saturday of that weekend, I told my partner Teresa that I had to go and do something important on Monday, that I would be away all day, but that I would tell her everything.

“After I made my complaint I went and sat in a multistorey car park for an hour and cried.

“Then I drove home and told Teresa everything. That day was the first time I had ever spoken about it.

“I’ve had mixed emotions at the number of people coming forward to report they were victims of abuse in a sporting environment – part of me is glad they have got the strength to come forward. But even though I always believed a lot of people would come forward, the numbers are upsetting.

“The affected footballers are supporting each other, I have been contacted by a couple of people and I have contacted Andy Woodward. One footballer said they are looking to organise a get-together to support each other.

“In a way football doesn’t come into it – it was just the means by which offenders were able to abuse people.”

David was just 11 when he met his abuser in 1979 on a family trip to a holiday camp at Pwllheli, north Wales, where the coach ran a football course.

David says as a youngster he was amazed by the coach, who suggested the pair write to each other, and persuaded his parents to return later in the year for another course.

The grooming went on for seven months before he agreed to attend a coaching course, 
staying two nights at the coach’s house, when he was abused.

He never spoke of his ordeal, thinking he would never see him again but he arrived home from school the following month to find him talking to his mother.

Oblivious to what had gone on, his mum told him to show the coach his football trophies in his bedroom, where the abuser told him, ‘Don’t worry, I won’t tell your mum what you did to me’.

He recalls: “It made me feel like I was the one who had done it, that I had done something wrong.”

His abuser was jailed in the 90s for assaults on a number of other boys.

David says: “When the first offences came to light, in the 1990s, my mum collared me and asked if he had done anything, and I said no. She wouldn’t have been able to cope.

“But I was determined to see him go to jail eventually.”

When he first came forward, the CPS told him it was unlikely his evidence would make a difference even if he had come forward in 1998, as he was abused in the period covered by the UK proceedings, but the decision was overturned when he appealed to the Child Sexual Abuse Review Panel in 2013, which ordered charges to be laid.

The decision led to a change in the guidance to prosecutors in relation to historical sexual abuse, with more cases being pursued even if they may only bring a short sentence.

David recalls: “To be told what has happened to you is not in the public’s interest, well you can’t describe it.”

He was so nervous of anything jeopardising his case he did not tell his father – a key witness because he had dropped and collected him from the coach’s house.

He says: “Instead, the police had to go and see him to tell him what had happened and ask him about it.

“I was sitting at work, knowing at that exact moment they were telling my dad his son had been abused.

“When they first turned up and asked if his son was David he thought I was dead or hurt.

“My dad told them on one occasion I was standing at the window waiting for him and couldn’t wait to get out of the house.”

The day before his abuser was due to go on trial in April last year, he admitted two indecent assaults and two counts of enticing a boy to commit gross indecency.

When Mr Lean came to court to read a victim impact statement, he was led into the same room as his abuser, despite requesting anonymity – and in a horrible twist, was even mistaken for him by a member of court staff.

He said: “He was sitting two yards away from me, this man who had abused me, who I never ever wanted to see again.”

David’s partner, a mental health nurse whom he met online eight years ago, has been by his side throughout the proceedings and publicity.

Now they are moving forward to begin a new chapter in their lives in two weeks time when David and Teresa wed at Samlesbury Hall near Preston, in a festive-themed ceremony.

‘To say football is rife with this sort of thing is totally wrong’

Gary Peters is passionate about the beautiful game which has given him a living for more than 40 years.

So the former Preston North End boss gets upset at the picture now being painted of professional football in the face of an avalanche of sexual abuse allegations.

“To say football is rife with this sort of thing is totally wrong,” said the man who stepped aside as manager at Deepdale in 1998 to run the club’s youth academy.

“All the allegations that I’ve seen in the media over the past week or so are from 20 years ago or longer. They’re all horrific. I genuinely feel for the players who have suffered this awful abuse and I admire them for coming forward. It must have taken a lot for them to speak out in public.

“But I wouldn’t want any parents to feel now that it is dangerous to let their children get involved with the game. That couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Gary’s switch to head up Preston’s Centre of Excellence marked the precise moment junior football came out of the shadows.

In the summer of 1998 the FA launched an initiative to give every Football League and Premier League clubs a funding boost for their under-16s sections.

It turned out to be a game changer and one which made it more difficult for opportunities for abuse.

All clubs were handed £138,000 but with the cash came strict conditions.

Every age group, from nine to 16, had to have two coaches - not one - and staff were not allowed to be alone with the youngsters.

“The rules we brought in were so strict that even if a member of the coaching staff saw one of the kids walking home alone, they couldn’t stop to pick him up,” explained Gary, who now works as a mentor for young players at a number of professional clubs.

“You might think it would have been the safe thing to do to make sure the lad was OK. But you couldn’t drive him home if you didn’t have another coach in the car.

“If a young lad was waiting behind after a training session for his parents to pick him up, then one coach couldn’t stay with him, it had to be two.

“These are the sorts of things we brought in during 1998 and they formed the foundation for what is in place at professional clubs now. It is a lot safer.”

‘My life has been ruined until age 43, but how many others are there?’

The ex-professional footballer who sparked an avalanche of calls to police and the NSPCC was until recently working as a police officer in Lancashire.

Andy Woodward, now 43, played for Crewe Alexandra, Bury, Sheffield United and Scunthorpe, but had to quit the game because he claimed he became unable to cope with the after-effects of what had happened to him at the hands of a junior coach.

But after leaving football he was recruited as a police officer and worked as a family liaison officer for Lancashire Constabulary in the Chorley area until he left the force last month.

It was Woodward’s appearance on TV and in the national press which opened the floodgates for an investigation which may yet eclipse the Jimmy Savile inquiry for the number of its victims.

“My life has been ruined until the age of 43,” said Woodward. “But how many others are there?”

‘I only told my story in order to help others handle theirs’

Coach Frank Roper will never face justice for the crimes he allegedly committed against young boys across the North West.

The man who recommended scores of talented footballers to Blackpool FC in the 1980s died 11 years ago in Stockport without being held accountable.

Former Blackpool and England striker Paul Stewart came forward last week to accuse Roper of abusing him.

At least three other junior players have since said they too were molested by him.

Roper ran a successful junior club called Nova which produced dozens of professionals over the years. But it is claimed his coaching hid a sinister secret.

“The fact that he is dead doesn’t really change anything,” said Stewart.

“I told my story in order to help others handle it. I didn’t handle it very well for many, many years and if I’m honest I still struggle.

“If I’m honest I’m disappointed at Frank Roper’s death, purely and simply for the fact that he won’t be held accountable for his actions, for what he subjected me to.

“I didn’t come forward specifically for Roper to be brought to justice.

“I did it because I thought it would encourage others who might be struggling with the issues that I struggled with.”

Blackpool is one of the football clubs named by Professional Footballers’ Association chief executive Gordon Taylor, along with Crewe, Manchester City, Stoke, Leeds and Newcastle in the inquiry into sexual abuse.

The club issued a statement a week ago saying it had yet to receive any information from the PFA in relation to the ongoing investigations of historic abuse.

It said it would co-operate with any inquiry.