Glasgow & West Scotland

Celtic confirm sex abuse probe and deny 'doing nothing'

Jim McCafferty Image copyright Alan Lewis
Image caption Former youth coach Jim McCafferty was jailed for six years and nine months

Celtic FC has been conducting its own two-year investigation into historical child sex abuse, according to its chief executive.

In letters to two MSPs, Peter Lawwell hit back at "misconceptions" the football club had been "doing nothing".

He said the club's insurers had appointed a "wholly independent and experienced lawyer" to investigate.

Last month the club expressed "regret and sorrow" 10 days after an ex-youth coach was jailed for child sex abuse.

Jim McCafferty, 73, was the fourth man connected to either Celtic or Celtic Boys Club to be convicted of child sex offences in the past year.

The club's response to the crimes involving the former boys club coaches was last week criticised by two MSPs.

And both have issued fresh criticism after receiving a letter from Mr Lawwell.

Image copyright SNS
Image caption Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwel hit back at "misconceptions"

James Dornan, the SNP MSP for Glasgow Cathcart, told BBC Scotland he wants more clarity on what the investigation has involved.

He said: "If nobody has spoken to victims about their experiences and what they would like to see to overcome those experiences and how those experiences came about then that's not an investigation.

"If what the investigation is about is how they can legally prove that Celtic Boys Club and Celtic Football Club are separate entities then that's a sham."

'More than a club'

Asked about his reaction to the scandal as a fan of the club, Mr Dornan said: "I would much rather be here having this conversation about any other club in the world than having it about Celtic.

"I grew up to believe that Celtic was more than a football club, and I like to believe it still is, but this and the way the board have handled this.

"In one way, I'm glad that my dad is not here to see that Celtic are behaving in this way on what is probably the most important issue that club has ever faced."

Conservative MSP Mr Tomkins tweeted his reaction to the letter.

He wrote: "I know of no reason why legal investigation into what Celtic FC knew about the abuse at the boys club (and when they knew it) needs to be in secret.

"Nothing in Celtic's letter to me undermines my belief that these matters require to be 'independently' investigated and that, if necessary, Celtic will have to establish and administer a compensation scheme for victims of abuse.

"Finally, having an unnamed lawyer secretly investigating a matter does nothing to help, guide or support the victims and their families. It is their rights and interests that no one should overlook in this matter."

Image caption James Dornan and Adam Tomkins have both written to Celtic over the child abuse scandal

Mr Lawwell has written to both MSPs, saying it is "important that we clarify a number of issues which appear to be misconceptions at present".

And he told Mr Dornan: "We believe that your criticisms, which suggested that we were not a caring club and that we were not taking our responsibilities seriously was both unfair and misguided".

In the letters released to the Press Association, Mr Lawwell stated: "The first misconception is that the club is doing nothing and abdicating responsibility. That is simply not true."

Instead he claimed legal processes meant the club was "constrained" in what it could say publicly, describing it as being "highly frustrating for all".

'Proper manner'

But he also insisted it was not appropriate to discuss sensitive legal matters "through newspapers or on social media".

The Celtic chief executive said: "Some time ago our insurers appointed a wholly independent and experienced lawyer who is investigating and dealing with this matter on behalf of the club.

He added: "We respect any claimants' rights and out advisers will communicate with them and their representatives directly in the proper manner, respecting their rights to confidentiality."

Celtic will "ensure that we continue to meet all our obligations", Mr Lawwell stressed.

The chief executive also claimed that in the "very delicate and of course tragic set of circumstances" Mr Dornan's letter had "appeared to disregard the importance of the due process of law".

Sympathy for victims

He added: "Unfortunately legal processes are slow, and are also generally confidential. We have had to balance all of these factors in how was have addressed the issues to date.

"While we recognise that this issue is in the public domain we do not consider that means that we should deal with the matter through the media, but rather through the legal system.

"We would stress that we regret that the incidents took place and reiterate our sympathy for all victims who suffered abuse. We are following legal advice and respecting an ongoing process.

"The matter continues to receive our full attention and that we take all our obligations, including legal, very seriously."

Image caption Both Jim Torbett (left) and Frank Cairney (right) have been convicted of abusing children at Celtic Boys Club

But solicitor Patrick McGuire, who represents survivors of abuse, again accused the club of "too little, too late".

He said: "If Celtic have been carrying out a covert investigation why did it take the intervention of two MSPs to bring it to light?

"Why did they not set the record straight when survivors and campaigners started demanding answers and actions more than a year ago?"

He also asked why such an investigation was needed given the outcome of the court cases.

Last November Celtic Boys Club founder Jim Torbett was jailed for six years for sexually abusing three boys over eight years.

After his conviction Celtic took two days to issue a statement, which expressed "deep regret".

Earlier this year, the boys club's former chairman, Gerald King, was given a three-year probation order for sexually abusing four boys and a girl in the 1980s.

And in February Frank Cairney, a former manager of the boys club, was jailed for four years after being convicted of nine charges of sexually abusing young footballers.

Last month McCafferty admitted 12 charges related to child sex abuse against 10 teenage boys between 1972 and 1996.

He was sentenced to six years and nine months in prison.

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