Football bosses have been accused of leaving a sexual abuse victim feeling “worthless and abused all over again” after denying him compensation.
The Scottish Football Association (SFA) has refused to compensate a victim of a known paedophile referee because the abuse took place when the official was not on duty.
Stuart McMillan was a schoolboy when he took part in a football match for trainee referees and later the same day accepted a lift home from an SFA awards dinner with referee Hugh Stevenson.
During the journey, Stuart says Stevenson sexually assaulted him, an incident which left him traumatised for life.
Stuart, now 59 and a prison officer, has launched a claim for compensation against the SFA but has now been told that the governing body was rejecting his case.
A letter from the SFA’s lawyers said it was not liable on a number of grounds including that Stevenson was not on duty at the time of the offence, and that any authority he had over the schoolboy as a result of his position with the SFA would have ended when the day’s organised activities did.
It said: “Based on the account provided by your client, the circumstances of the assaults falls outwith our client’s ‘field of activity’. Driving your client home after the course had completed was not an extension of any duty that Mr Stevenson may have had. Any authority which Mr Stevenson may have had would have ended when the course did.”
The letter also states there was no evidence that Stevenson was an SFA employee, and that there was no connection between his position as a referee and the alleged offence against Stuart.
While the letter does express the SFA’s “every sympathy” for Stuart, it also appears to question his account of the attack, saying: “Your client does not have the benefit, in terms of evidential proof, of any relevant conviction.”
It also points out that the alleged attack took place nearly 40 years ago and that Stevenson died nearly 16 years ago.
Campaigners last night criticised the response saying it flew in the face of findings made by the SFA-commissioned interim Independent Review of Sexual Abuse in Scottish Football, published in June 2018, noted that victims were put off coming forward because their accounts were often challenged.
In 2016 Stevenson, who died in 2004, was accused of committing a catalogue of child sex offences over a number of years involving boys and young men. One victim told a BBC documentary he was repeatedly abused and raped. That case was included in the final Independent Review published in February. Police twice submitted a file to the Crown Office in 1993 and 1996 though no action was taken. Stuart, who was just 17 and training to become a professional referee at the time of the attack, said the response from the SFA had left him feeling angry and belittled.
He told The Sunday Post: “Football’s governing body should be ashamed for failing to set the right example and using a spurious excuse to slither out of their responsibility.
“My life, and the lives of others, was destroyed by the vile actions of one of their trusted referees, a scout and youth coach, who had unfettered access to hundreds of young boys as a result of SFA endorsement.
“Of course he didn’t sexually abuse me on the football pitch in front of everyone. He attacked me in his car, on the way home from a match for trainee referees and an official SFA awards dinner when I was just 17 years old.
“The only possible way he was able to have that access to me, and to the others he abused, was because of the SFA.”
Stuart said the assault prompted him to abandon his dreams of becoming a referee and the trauma had a devastating impact on personal relationships throughout his adult life.
He said: “I’d been determined to become a professional referee and enrolled on the SFA training programme where I was considered promising. Stevenson – who knew my parents because my father had been one of his teachers – reassured them he’d look after me.”
Stevenson invited Stuart to play in a friendly match between referees in Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire, and then on to the awards ceremony afterwards.
He said: “It was the first significant match I’d played at and first grown up dinner function I’d been to. I was underage and never a drinker, but I was encouraged to have a couple of beers. Two bottles of beer left me slightly dizzy. Stevenson laughed and said he’d run me home.
“I now understand Stevenson singled me out as vulnerable. Once I was in his car, I was an easy target.
“I did what he told me and was shocked when he began to abuse me. In those days you didn’t challenge anyone in authority. I froze.”
After the sickening assault Stuart said he became withdrawn and suffered nightmares and flashbacks.
He said: “I couldn’t tell my folks what happened. How could I? My parents went to their graves never knowing what Stevenson did to me.
“I spent years bottling up the abuse and couldn’t trust anyone ever again. My marriage broke down. Other relationships struggled as I find it impossible to trust. I’m still suffering flashbacks, nightmares, depression.
“I bitterly regret not speaking out about it before now, and urge anyone suffering in silence not to make the same mistake.”
He said it was only after Stevenson was named in the 2016 TV documentary that he realised he was not the only victim. It was then that he decided to report the incident to police, contact a lawyer and get expert medical help.
Child abuse campaigner David Whelan said that as Scottish football’s governing body, the SFA had a responsibility to take the lead in properly helping victims.
He said: “They should accept responsibility and liability, and do so quickly.
“By not accepting liability, they leave victims feeling worthless and abused all over again.”
The SFA’s stance appears to contradict its own interim independent report, which noted: “Most people who are sexually abused as children or young people do not report this immediately or even soon after. Many do not speak of these events until much later in life and some never reveal their experiences.
“We would of course like to think that in situations where harm is said to have been done under the auspices of a particular organisation or club this would be responded to directly, humanely, sympathetically and with a strong sense of justice. Acknowledgement is a start. Creating reasons not to do so where none exist is, in our view, actively counterproductive…”
The full report issued in February this year goes further, stating: “It is a matter of dismay to the Review that the issue of ‘belief’ still resonated within the current experiences of those affected.
“Some people told the Review that it had been inferred to them even quite recently – and often quite directly – that they have been making up accounts in order to obtain compensation etc. It is the view of the Independent Review that this attempt to undermine their credibility and disregard the impact they have endured is unacceptable and constitutes a serious wrong.”
After the first report, SFA chief executive Ian Maxwell apologised to victims and said he was committed, along with the clubs, to ensuring its recommendations were implemented.
Patrick McGuire, senior partner for Thompsons Solicitors, who represents a number of football abuse victims including Stuart McMillan, said the firm had numerous cases involving the SFA, including several in which Hugh Stevenson was named as an abuser.
Mr McGuire said: “Sadly, the response by the SFA to Mr McMillan’s case and to those of others has been, despite their own very damning report, to use every possible legal technicality to deny survivors of historic abuse financial justice.”
MSP James Dornan, an outspoken critic of how football has treated abuse victims, said: “The SFA must forget how much these claims will cost and think instead of the debt they owe to individuals who, whilst under their supposed care and protection, had their lives overturned by individuals those institutions made them believe they could trust.”
Darryl Broadfoot, the SFA’s head of sport, said: “Given that matters are ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment.”
Kind words are just not enough. SFA must back up apologies with action
– David Whelan
David Whelan heads up the organisation Former Boys and Girls Abused at Quarriers and sits on a Scottish Government committee dedicated to changing the lives of historic child abuse victims
The Scottish Football Association will no doubt be congratulating themselves that they have “done the right thing” by those who were abused in football.
But in fact, all they have done is pay lip service to the dreadful wrongs of the past.
It’s all too easy to do the moral thing and say a few contrite words – but they need to do the right thing and put money into repairing damaged lives.
An apology, no matter how nice or sincere the words, is worth nothing at all unless it is backed up by action.
The SFA must accept liability. If they do not, their apologies are not only worthless, they are tantamount to abusing victims all over again.
I’ve been campaigning on historic child abuse issues for almost 30 years. I’ve seen and heard the most appalling cases of abuse, victims left scarred and broken.
At the beginning of my journey, organisations were loathe to even acknowledge terrible past abuses.
Persistent campaigning by survivors means there is, at last, recognition. Organisations are now apologising. But without taking the appropriate action to right the damage done, apologies are hollow.
By not accepting liability, they leave victims feeling worthless and abused all over again.
As football’s governing body, the SFA has a responsibility to take the lead on this issue.
The SFA and clubs where abuse took place are no different from any of the organisations and institutions where children were abused in care and who found themselves at the centre of the child abuse inquiry.
They should accept responsibility and liability, and do so quickly wherever possible without dragging victims through years of combative court actions.
Martin Henry will know all of those things from his years of working with the church and abuse victims, so I’m surprised that message was not spelled out loud and clear in his report along with his words urging apology.
Apologies mean nothing. SFA must do right thing
– Alan Draper
Alan Draper is a former director of social work and adviser to the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, which develops policy on child abuse within the church.
It saddens me that despite decades of campaigning and increased awareness, organisations where vulnerable young children suffered abuse continue to behave as if they have learned nothing at all.
Instead of fulfilling their responsibilities towards those whose lives have been badly damaged, it appears the SFA are no different to other organisations.
Instead of reaching out and repairing the damage done, it looks very much to my experienced eye that they have spoken to their lawyers and their insurers who have probably told them what to do and say to make them sound as if they are sorry – but not liable.
What is the use of any apology if it fails to repair the damage done? Child abuse causes lifelong damage – damage that cannot be repaired without proper professional help.
These organisations issue statements and apologies which sound very sincere, but are meaningless when it comes right down to it.
Martin Henry knows full well that any apology without reparation is worthless.
Insurance companies might be happy that an apology gets them off the hook, but it won’t help heal victims. The SFA has a responsibility to do the right thing.
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