A TALENT-spotter at the centre of the football sex abuse scandal was previously sacked for molesting children, The Sunday Post has been told.
Disgraced football coach Gordon Neely – this week accused of rape by one person and indecent behaviour by another – was dismissed by Hibs in 1986 for abusing two boys, a well-placed source has claimed.
But the Edinburgh club’s former chairman is said to have hushed up the claims and didn’t call in the police for fear of the damage it would do to Hibs’ reputation.
And that means that a vital chance 30 years ago to blow the whistle both on Neely’s alleged behaviour and the wider issue of sex abuse in football was missed.
As a consequence, Neely was free to move to Rangers with his reputation as a sought-after talent-spotter intact.
At Ibrox, he had four more years of involvement in football and access to vulnerable youngsters. His time at Rangers was halted, however, in 1990 when then-manager Graeme Souness sacked him after a youth team player complained to his father that Neely had abused him.
But Neely would never have got the job at Rangers had the Ibrox club been aware of the fact he had been axed by Hibs for molesting two boys on the club’s books.
Hibs said on Monday that the club had “no record” of any complaints against Neely while he was an employee.
But sports journalist Ray Hepburn has now revealed that former Hibs chairman Kenny Waugh told him he sacked Neely after complaints from two sets of parents that he had sexually abused their sons.
Worried at the negative impact a child abuse scandal would have on Hibs’ ability to recruit young talent, Waugh then decided not to involve the police.
The revelation comes in the week it emerged Neely is feared to have carried out a string of sexual assaults on young players while at Edinburgh youth side Hutchison Vale, before he started at Hibs.
Hepburn, a close friend of Waugh, revealed: “Kenny wanted it dealt with swiftly to re-affirm Easter Road was a safe place for youngsters. So Rangers were denied knowledge of Neely’s activities – and they would certainly never have employed him, had they known.
“Kenny told me the parents said their children had been molested. He was a decent man and was rightly appalled.
“But he was very worried that if anyone found out, Hibs would lose out on the talent the club needed to try and compete with Hearts and the Old Firm.
“He swore me to secrecy. I’m setting the record straight on Kenny dealing with it as sadly he passed away in 2015 and couldn’t do that himself. I’d be very happy to assist if the police want to speak to me about this information.”
Hepburn added: “Kenny told me in the spring of 1986 what happened over a drink in the Centre Court Bar in Colinton, Edinburgh.
“I remember it absolutely clearly. We were both football people – but we were friends as well and our families socialised together.
“Kenny and his wife Dorothy were guests at my home in Perthshire for family events like birthdays and anniversaries.
“It was a huge year for Edinburgh football after Hearts were pipped for the title on the last day of the season.
“Kenny was staggered when the Neely situation landed on Hibs and told me in the strictest confidence.”
He added: “Those were different times. That was the way these things were dealt with. I think we are going to hear a lot more of the same in the coming months.”
Neely began his coaching career with Edina Hibs and Hutchison Vale boys’ clubs in Edinburgh.
He helped to teach a number of talented youngsters who went on to enjoy successful football careers.
Neely worked for Dundee United to recruit promising players to the club before he joined Hibernian.
Hepburn added: “It was a different time. Waugh’s treatment of Neely was kept on a need-to-know basis.
“So it doesn’t surprise me that nothing was written down at the club or, if there was, that no record has survived of it.
“This was before you had big Human Resources departments and detailed written employment procedures.
“His approach was two-fold.
“Firstly, to get Neely out of Easter Road instantly – that was simple, his feet never touched the ground.
“Secondly, he had to make sure parents would be happy and secure sending their boys to Hibs, a club with an exemplary record of producing top young stars.
“Rangers, Celtic, Hearts and Aberdeen were hoovering up all the young talent in the central belt and Hibs, with their lesser budget, had to get their share.
“He spoke with the parents involved and the agreed response was not to involve the police. Back then, the chairman’s word would have been final – and if he wanted it kept quiet then that’s what would have happened.”
Neely was dismissed by Souness at a meeting attended by the then Ibrox manager and his assistant Walter Smith in 1990. The showdown happened after a youngster confided in his dad, a serving police officer, about an abuse incident involving Neely. His axing effectively ended his career in football.
On Tuesday, victim Colin Anderson, 49, told how Neely sexually assaulted him three times while he was a youth at Hutchison Vale, adding: “He’s the Jimmy Savile of Scottish football.”
Neely died of cancer two years ago, aged 62. Some reports in 1986 suggested Neely had been “poached” by Rangers but it’s believed that version of events may have been placed with journalists by Neely himself.
Last night, abuse campaigners said a golden opportunity to nail a prolific child abuser had potentially been missed.
Andy Lavery, founder of survivors’ group White Flowers Alba, said: “If this is true, it is an absolute disgrace. I’m beyond angry to hear this. The police should have been brought in. Neely went to Rangers with a clean bill of health.
“People have suffered across Britain because of the inability in the past of football clubs to deal with this.
“Every time they’ve not done something they have failed children.”
Open Secret is a community-based organisation which provides support for people affected by childhood abuse.
Its chief executive, Janine Rennie, said: “Sadly this is something we deal with time and time again when child abusers have not been brought to justice and have gone on to abuse other children.
“Often it’s more about reputation than protecting children. I’m very concerned about that but not surprised.”
A Hibs spokesman said last night: “We would encourage Mr Hepburn to go to the police with his information.”
For more information on abuse go to www.whiteflowersalba.org.uk. If you’re a victim of the scandal engulfing football, please contact The Sunday Post on 0141 567 2812.
NEARLY 100 football clubs are now involved in a nationwide probe into allegations of abuse.
The story ignited last month when former Crewe and Sheffield United player Andy Woodward, 43, claimed to have been abused by former coach Barry Bennell, 62, who has since been charged with historical child sexual abuse.
Last week the National Police Chiefs Council revealed there were 83 potential suspects and 98 clubs involved in Operation Hydrant. Scottish clubs embroiled include Motherwell, Celtic, Rangers, Hibs, Falkirk and Partick Thistle.
AN abuse survivor has encouraged other victims to be brave and come forward.
The 55-year-old, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was abused by paedophile youth coach Hugh Stevenson.
He spoke out after another victim of Stevenson’s, Peter Haynes, 50, broke a four-decade silence to reveal he was abused in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Stevenson’s latest known victim urged others not to suffer in silence.
He told The Sunday Post: “I now believe there are probably many more of us out there who suffered at this man’s hands.”
The man was a teenager when he was abused.
“The abuse seemed to go on forever,” he said.
Youth coach Stevenson died in 2004.