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Celtic Boys Club founder at centre of fresh child sexual abuse claims

April 12, 2017 ·  By Josh Halliday for www.theguardian.com

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BBC Scotland investigation alleges Jim Torbett abused boys during two stints at football club from mid-60s to 1996

Jim Torbett was jailed for two years in 1998 for abusing three former Celtic Boys Club players. Photograph: Spindrift

Jim Torbett was jailed for two years in 1998 for abusing three former Celtic Boys Club players. Photograph: Spindrift

Fresh allegations of child sexual abuse have been made against the founder of Celtic Boys Club and a former Rangers youth coach.

A BBC Scotland investigation claims Jim Torbett sexually abused boys during two stints at Celtic Boys Club from the mid-60s to 1996.

Torbett was jailed for two years in 1998 for abusing three former Celtic Boys Club players, including the former Scotland international Alan Brazil, between 1967-74.

Alleged victims told a BBC Scotland programme, which aired on Monday night, that Torbett was allowed to return to the club around 1980 despite being sacked when abuse allegations surfaced in 1974.

It is alleged Torbett continued abusing boys in his second stint at the famed Celtic feeder club, where he coached until 1996 when more abuse allegations were made against him.

Torbett’s lawyer told the BBC he “vehemently denies these completely false allegations. Clearly allegations of this kind must remain in the hands of the police and due process of the law must be followed here.”

The BBC investigation also made fresh claims about the former Hibernian and Rangers coach Gordon Neely, who died in 2014.

The programme, Football Abuse: the Ugly Side of the Beautiful Game, claimed Neely was sacked from Hibernian when allegations of abuse surfaced but the police were not informed.

He then joined Rangers where it is claimed he began abusing boys there. Rangers also sacked him over alleged abuse. The club told the BBC it informed the police.

In a statement, Hibernian said it was “saddened to be told that personnel at the club at the time were allegedly made aware of concerns about Neely and, again allegedly, did not contact the police.

“[This] is something which current policies and practices would prevent from happening today.”

Jon Cleland, an alleged victim of Neely, said he was subjected to 18 months of serious sexual abuse when he was 11. He told BBC Scotland: “He said I looked like I had had an injury … then he asked me to lean over a desk, and that’s when I was raped. At that age, I hadn’t a clue what was going on.”

The former Hutchinson Vale FC player said he gave up football to escape the abuse. He told the programme he was raped about 10 times over 18 months.

Asked if he had been able to tell anyone, he said: “No. I couldn’t have possibly at that age. I thought it was my fault. I thought I had done something wrong.”

Kenny Campbell, now 44, alleged that he was abused by Torbett over four years afte r joining Celtic’s under-14s team in 1986.

He said Torbett took a special interest in him and won the trust of his parents. Campbell told BBC Scotland: “Pretty quickly he became a hero of mine. In my mind he was doing good things [for me].

“I’d have jumped in front of a bus for him if he had asked me, guaranteed. So it was as if he had a hold over us.”

He said Torbett began the abuse while he was sitting on the couch with him one night and that this was the beginning of up to four years of sexual abuse, which carried on even after he was signed by the senior Celtic team.

The young player did not tell anyone. “I just thought it was natural. I just thought that was what happened,” he said.

In a statement, Celtic FC said the club was fully committed to safeguarding children. Rangers said it understood Neely was dismissed and the police were informed at the time. The club added that “all employees adhered to the strictest codes of conduct” and that it would “always cooperate fully with the authorities”.

Stewart Regan, the chief executive of the Scottish FA, said an independent review into allegations of historical child sexual abuse in Scottish football was under way.

“We await its findings,” he added. “The latest allegations are a matter for the investigatory authority, Police Scotland. We would urge anyone who has suffered abuse to come forward using the dedicated, confidential NSPCC 24-hour helpline 0800 023 2642, directly to the police on 101 or via email to the Scottish FA at childrenswellbeing@scottishfa.co.uk.”

DCI Sarah Taylor, of the national child abuse investigation unit at Police Scotland, said: “Child abuse is incredibly difficult for people to revisit and to talk about. Our officers are highly specialist and are trained to deal with all reports sensitively.

“We would ask anyone who has been the victim of abuse, or has information about potential abuse to contact us. We will listen and we will investigate and our first priority will be to ensure that there are no children at risk now.

“If you have suffered sexual abuse, or if you can assist this investigation or you know anyone who may have been a victim then please call Police Scotland on 101. Or you can call the NSPCC helpline on 0800 023 2642.”

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