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FA enquiry into child sex abuse.

The QC leading the Football Association’s independent inquiry into child sexual abuse is prepared to launch his own investigation into clubs at the centre of the scandal if he finds that they did not respond adequately to his request for information.

Clive Sheldon QC has given some of the dozen clubs time to produce a ‘structured report’ detailing how they reacted to allegations of abuse suffered by former players between 1970 and 2005.

Clubs associated with abusers have been asked to show whether they followed child-safeguarding procedures correctly. Clive Sheldon can intervene and carry out an independent investigation if he thinks they have not answered all the relevant questions. His report will name clubs who hold back information.

The inquiry started in December 2016 after a former professional player, Andy Woodward, claimed he was abused by disgraced coach, Barry Bennell, at Crewe.

Bennell, a former Crewe and Manchester City coach, was jailed for 30 years in February for 50 offences of child sexual abuse involving 12 junior players, aged between eight and 14, between 1979 and 1990. Dozens more former players have come forward to make abuse allegations against him.

Manchester City is holding a QC-led inquiry into Bennell’s offending and Chelsea has appointed a QC to lead an inquiry into separate abuse allegations at Stamford Bridge in the 1970s. However, Crewe has been criticised for resisting calls to conduct its own independent investigation.

Crewe has said that police found no evidence that anyone at the club knew about Bennell’s offending and that it was not thought necessary to launch another inquiry.

It is believed that survivors who sought help after being abused mostly spoke to people within clubs instead of the police. Sheldon’s final report, expected in September, will name clubs and individuals if he concludes they did not take the correct steps afterwards. The report may recommend suitable sanctions to the FA.

Sheldon, whose inquiry has heard that Crewe continued to employ Bennell for a number of years, despite being told by the police to “move him on” in the late 1980s, is expected to start writing his report in August.

The inquiry has been delayed by Sheldon and his team having to sift through the FA’s legal files but around 500,000 pages of material from 6,000 files have now been uploaded to a digital platform.

A review of each page has identified 353 documents as highly relevant. Sheldon is expected to refer to the material when he interviews FA personnel to assess how the game’s governing body dealt with child safety. All of the 46 county FAs have now replied to Sheldon’s letter requesting help with the inquiry.

The FA is currently expected to publish Sheldon’s findings, although some sections will be redacted for legal reasons. Sheldon has met 29 abuse victims and hopes to speak to between 10 and 15 more.

The inquiry has been so harrowing that Sheldon and some members of his team have seen a counsellor, paid for by the FA, to look after their mental health.

Latest police figures showed a total of 839 alleged victims had come forward and 294 alleged suspects were identified by the end of 2017. Operation Hydrant, the specialist police unit in charge of the operation, had received 2,094 referrals, with 334 clubs affected across every level of the sport.