Jim McCafferty: The abuser who preyed on dreams of football stardom

By Mark Daly & Chris Clements
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image copyrightAlan lewis
image captionJim McCafferty worked at Celtic more than 20 years ago

Over four decades, Jim McCafferty coached and had unfettered access to hundreds of children who dreamed of being football stars.

In his wake, he left a trail of misery and destruction.

He chose his victims, all boys, from the various youth football teams he managed in North Lanarkshire, from Celtic Boys Club and from Celtic FC's pro youth set up, where he coached and was kitman.

They were then groomed, abused and manipulated into silence.

But it was a silence that would not hold forever.

image captionMcCafferty (far left) pictured with a Celtic youth team

On Tuesday, at the High Court in Edinburgh, McCafferty, 73, cut a shambling figure, as he pleaded guilty to 10 charges of indecent assault, one charge of lewd and libidinous behaviour, and a breach of the peace.

He wore a grey cardigan and trousers, and sat with his head down for the majority of the hearing. As the charges were read in detail by the advocate depute, he did not react.

Some of McCafferty's nine surviving victims were at court to see the man they'd once feared jailed for six years and nine months. He was already serving a jail term for abuse.

Groomed and abused

One of his victims, now in his late 50s, was abused by McCafferty in the 1970s.

He told the BBC how McCafferty had groomed him, from age 13, and abused him more than a dozen times during the 1970s.

Craig (not his real name) said: "It was a period of three years where the attacks increased in intensity and frequency.

"One particular attack… he was on top of me, pressing me against the wall… physically abusing me.

"I was shaking, it's almost like freezing, a numbness comes over you that the sense of, is this real? Is this happening to me? What do you do here? It's like a bad dream where you don't have the power of your own muscles."

image captionCraig, not his real name, told the BBC of the abuse he suffered

Craig said he arrived home from school a few days later and McCafferty was sitting in his living room, speaking to his parents.

He told them Craig was on Celtic's radar, but had been missing training.

"My father was proud and puffed up by that, and was telling me that I had to get over myself and get back... so I did."

Craig says he was taken to Celtic Park by McCafferty and introduced to the management team as a potential new recruit for Celtic.

"[But]…. in growing up I often reflected on not really having the ability to make it professionally, never mind with Celtic. It was stupidity on my part."

image captionJim Torbett was jailed for six years for abusing boys

On another occasion, Craig says he was introduced to Jim Torbett, the Celtic Boys Club founder, who was jailed for a second time last year after a BBC Scotland investigation revealed fresh evidence against him.

McCafferty was also a coach for Celtic Boys Club, and four of his victims played for the club and the Celtic youth team.

Craig, who was then playing for a youth team called Motherwell Boys Club (not connected to the professional side), says he was taken to play a six-a-side tournament in Glasgow where Celtic Boys Club was also taking part.

He said: "I was called over, and McCafferty was introducing me [to Torbett] and saying odds were, that at some point I would be joining Celtic.

"Celtic was always the carrot he dangled in front of me."

'I didn't know what grooming meant'

Jim Tobett is not the only known football paedophile McCafferty was linked to.

Another of McCafferty's victims told the BBC he was taken to meet Barry Bennell, the former Crewe Alexandria coach now serving 30 years in prison for what has been described as "industrial scale" child abuse.

David (not his real name) is in his early 50s, and played for Netherdale Boys Club in the 1980s.

He was abused by McCafferty, who coached the team, and has struggled with alcohol and gambling problems ever since.

image captionYoung players were introduced to Barry Bennell by McCafferty

"I didn't know what grooming meant back then, but I do now.

"I had a paper round, then one day he turned up and got me a job in a charity he worked at called the Drake Fellowship."

This charity would later become Fairbridge. In 1992, Jim Torbett was listed in company accounts as managing director.

David said McCafferty had a Drake Fellowship van, and would take to him to and from training and matches.

"He used to make up excuses to take the back roads, like he'd had a couple of pints and wanted to avoid the police. And then the abuse would happen in a lay-by."

image copyrightJulia Quenzler
image captionBennell was jailed last year

David said that in around 1984, McCafferty organised a trip to Manchester City's former ground at Maine Road.

"As you can imagine it was great for us to see these famous grounds. We were awestruck," he said.

"But then, McCafferty took us to Crewe Alexandria's ground. We'd never even heard of Crewe Alexandria. And there he introduced us to a man called Barry Bennell.

"It was only years later when the penny finally dropped. McCafferty clearly knew him, and dropped in on him for reasons we didn't understand. Now I do."

'What he did has never left me'

David only went to the police about McCafferty in 2016 after the Bennell allegations exploded, and was the first to speak out about him, leading to McCafferty's confession to the Daily Record newspaper.

He said: "I've struggled my whole life because of McCafferty, ruined relationships and gambled away my life savings. What he did to me has never left me."

Other boys have spoken about being sent by McCafferty to have trials with Bennell at Crewe.

The links between McCafferty and Bennell, and McCafferty and Torbett, now look clearly established.

image captionBoth Jim Torbett (left) and Frank Cairney (right) have been convicted of abuse

All were predatory paedophiles who used their positions of trust within football to identify and prey on vulnerable children.

To some, it seems almost inconceivable that their relationships with each other were based simply around football.

Craig said: "I believe that these people knew each other, they operated in a network environment. Otherwise how can they work with such impunity?"

'This was about the abuse of young men'

Patrick McGuire of Thompsons Solicitors, who is representing some of McCafferty's victims in civil cases, said it was known that the three men interacted at different points.

"McCafferty introduced boys to Torbett, to Bennell, and to my mind, therefore, it begs one question.

"There's certainly no doubt whatsoever that this was more than related to football, that they were working in some sort of concert and that this was about the abuse of young men," he said.

McCafferty is now the fourth former football coach associated with Celtic or Celtic Boys Club to be convicted of child sex abuse charges, following Jim Torbett, Gerald King and Frank Cairney.

image captionGerald King (far left), Jim Torbett (centre) and Frank Cairney (right) were all convicted of child sex offences

Cairney was convicted last year of abusing young Celtic Boys Club players, with some of the abuse taking place in the dressing room at Celtic Park.

King, a former Celtic Boys Club chairman, was convicted of abusing children at a primary school. He had previously worked with Torbett at his Trophy Centre business.

McCafferty joined Celtic in around 1990 as a scout. In around 1994 he became kitman to the youth team, where he remained until 1996, when he resigned amidst allegations of inappropriate behaviour.

Two of the men on the charge sheet against McCafferty were abused at Celtic Park or their training ground, Barrowfield. One went on to play professionally.

'Utterly unforgivable'

Mr McGuire said: "McCafferty's connection with Celtic is now utterly undeniable.

"We now know that some of the abuse took place in Celtic premises. What he did was groom the boys but at the same time groom the parents, always with Celtic dangling on the end of a stick as a golden carrot.

"It's just utterly unforgivable."

He said there had never been any "financial justice" for those abused at Celtic Park.

"That's why now all eyes are on the board of Celtic Football Club to do the right thing," he added.

image captionPatrick McGuire says there should be "financial justice" for victims

Last year Celtic expressed "deep regret" over the abuse carried out by Torbett and said it had taken the allegations of abuse "extremely seriously" because of its "historic contacts" with Celtic Boys Club.

Despite the cloud over McCafferty's departure from Celtic, and allegations being passed to the police, within two years he was working as kit man for Hibernian. He then took up a final role at Falkirk in the 1990s.

So far no allegations have emerged publicly from his time at Hibs or Falkirk.

Not all of McCafferty's victims lived to see their day in court. Two of the men named on the charge sheet died early, after a life plagued with addiction and depression.

'We always had this hanging over us'

One of those men is John Gaffney, who played for Fauldhouse Boys Club in the early 1980s. He was abused by McCafferty before his life spiralled. After many years of alcohol and self harm, he died in 2013.

His ex-wife Linda, told the BBC , "We had a nice home, two kids and a dog - but we always had this hanging over us. What McCafferty did to John was always there.

"And now we know so much more about what he did to so many more people, we have to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again in the future."

Craig added: "I just want all the other victims out there to know it is not their fault. They're not alone. Come forward, speak up. There is help here for you."

Additional reporting by Calum McKay and Siobhann Dunn.

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