Child abuse victims to sue Celtic FC in landmark case | UK news

Victims of a number of paedophiles are to sue Celtic football club in a ground-breaking civil action amidst claims it failed to protect them from sex abusers working around Celtic Boys’ Club.

Three victim-survivors aim to use a civil trial to “knock down the defence wall” they say Celtic has erected in order to distance itself from the Boys’ Club, the Guardian has learnt.

The Glasgow-based team insist that Celtic Boys’ Club is a separate legal entity – a claim that those abused at the latter say only compounds the decades of hurt they have endured. The new Scottish Premiership champions have repeatedly made this claim in the Scottish media.

The victim-survivors hope their case will also shine light on the role played by a senior Celtic executive when one paedophile returned to the Boys’ Club after he had been allegedly sacked from it in 1974 by Jock Stein, the Glasgow side’s legendary European Cup winning manager.

A Guardian investigation has also uncovered allegations of threats, intimidation, vandalism and social media attacks on the family of one victim of the Celtic Boys’ Club abusers. There is no suggestion these incidents are linked to anyone connected to Celtic FC or the Boys’ Club.

Several victim-survivors have criticised the Scottish government for failing to set up an independent public inquiry into the abuse scandal that has shaken Celtic and Scottish football.

A Scottish government spokesperson said it has already established a wide ranging review into child abuse across Scotland.

“The Scottish government, having listened to the views of survivors, established one of the widest ranging public inquiries that Scotland has ever seen, into the abuse of children in care, focusing on the systemic institutional failures which saw many of our most vulnerable children, including those in the care of the state, abused by the very individuals who were there to care for them. We want that inquiry to be able to undertake its work in a timescale that can address the issues raised by survivors, many of whom are elderly,” it said.

Patrick McGuire, one of the lawyers for the 21 victim-survivors, describes Celtic’s argument that it was and is a separate legal entity from the Boys’ Club and is therefore not corporately responsible for the paedophiles crimes as “absolute nonsense.”

McGuire, a senior partner in Glasgow law firm Thompsons which is taking the civil action later this year on behalf of the victim-survivors, said:

“There is loads of evidence of scouts at Celtic finding young stars and telling them the route into the parent club is first to join the Boys’ Club.

“We have a copy of ‘Celtic View’ (the club’s official newspaper) which talks about the players of that week going from the senior team best player all the way down to the Boys’ Club. Their in-house newspaper talks about the Boys’ Club being ‘part of the Celtic family’ and Davy Hay, a former manager, described the youth side as the ‘base of the pyramid’ of the entire club.”

The abusers connected with Celtic Boys’ include multi-millionaire businessman James Torbett who helped set up the club in the late 1960s. He was sentenced for six years in November 2018 after the trial judge said he “used the club as a front for child sexual abuse.” Torbett was also jailed in 1998 for abusing young players between 1967 and 1974.

Another prominent management figure in Celtic Boys’ Club was the team’s former kitman Jim McCafferty. Last year the 73-year-old was found guilty of 12 sex abuse charges in relation to ten boys. McCafferty’s crimes stretched from 1972 to 1996. He was sentenced to six years and nine months in prison after admitting to all 12 charges.

At the time of his conviction in May 2019 McCafferty was already serving a prison sentence for the sexual abuse of a boy in Belfast. Four out of his 12 victims played for the Boys’ Club but others included boys from other football youth teams he ran in North Lanarkshire.

Several of these men’s victims went on to become senior professional players at Celtic, other Scottish premier league teams and for Scotland.

One of Torbett’s victims who has spoken out, David Gordon, says Celtic’s position that it was and remains a separate legal entity flies in the face of facts.

“We trained at Barrowfield (their training centre) and we actually played at Parkhead. I remember running out there as a 14-year-old in the hooped jersey before a Celtic v Rangers game in front of an 80,000 plus crowd. I remember we even swopped jerseys with a young Rangers kid on the pitch. Was I playing for a separate legal entity back then? They even used to get us at the Boys’ Club to sell the programmes during big matches.”

Families who have spoken out in favour of the civil action against Celtic have received physical and on-line threats over recent months.

Michelle Gray’s late brother Andrew revealed before he died in Australia that Torbett had sexually abused him when the paedophile was allowed back into the club in the mid 1980s. Michelle Gray and her mother Helene say the threats started when they attended Torbett’s second trial in 2018.

“One big man among Torbett’s supporters outside the court room even said out loud that my mother and me were ‘dirty lying bastards.’ This was in October 2018,” she recalls.

“This was his second conviction and there were still people turning up to support Torbett.”

Michelle Gray says she heard one of them say that Andy was also a ‘dirty lying bastard’ even though her brother was already dead.

Even after Torbett’s second conviction the Gray family say the online torment, social ostracisation and even vandalism directed at Michelle’s car is ongoing.

“When we went public and said we were joining the civil action against Celtic I received a death threat on the phone. The level of abuse on social media over the last few months has also been appalling.”

Celtic did not address specific questions the Guardian sent to it in relation to the forthcoming civil action, instead referring to a statement it first issued in February in relation to the accusations.

The statement said: “Celtic Football Club is appalled by any form of historic abuse and has great sympathy for those who suffered abuse and for their families. The Club is very sorry that these events took place. The abuse of young people is an abhorrent crime. Unfortunately it has affected many areas of society.

“With regard to the allegations regarding historic abuse at Celtic Boys’ Club (which, so far as we have been made aware, relate to the period prior to 1997), although Celtic Football Club is a separate organisation, we take these extremely seriously because of the historic contacts between the two organisations. Police investigations were given support, so as to seek to ensure that those individuals who abused young people were brought to justice.”


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