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FA abuse inquiry could investigate clubs including Crewe Alexandra

Barry Bennell, a former Crewe coach, was jailed earlier this year.

LONDON -- The Football Association (FA) inquiry into historic child sexual abuse is prepared to investigate the clubs at the centre of the allegations, notably Crewe Alexandra, if they fail to conduct satisfactory reviews of their own, sources have told ESPN FC.

Clive Sheldon QC, the barrister heading the inquiry into abuse between 1970 and 2005, is increasing pressure on 12 clubs linked to a known or alleged abuser -- among them Crewe, where Barry Bennell, jailed for 30 years after being found guilty of 43 counts of abuse throughout the 1980s, spent seven years.

Sheldon has asked some of the clubs, believed to include Crewe, to provide a "structured report" of their findings within the next month.

If a report is unsatisfactory, Sheldon will intervene and carry out his own investigation.

Chelsea and Manchester City, another of Bennell's former clubs, have launched QC-led investigations into historic abuse, which Sheldon and his team will support and supervise.

However, last month Crewe reneged on a promise to conduct their own inquiry shortly after their former youth coach Bennell was sentenced.

The League Two club said they felt no need to "duplicate the thorough inquiries" of Cheshire Police, whom they said had found no evidence that anyone at the club knew about Bennell's prolific offending.

The decision has been condemned and Damian Collins, the Conservative Member of Parliament who chairs the culture, media and sport select committee, urged the Sheldon inquiry to investigate Crewe.

Having initially written to all 65,000 FA-affiliated clubs, Sheldon has narrowed his focus to around 12 and, while it is unknown which clubs have been asked for a "structured report," those linked to an alleged abuser to date also include Aston Villa, Millwall, Charlton, Queens Park Rangers, Newcastle, Leeds, Blackpool, Southampton and Stoke City.

Sheldon's final report -- which he now does not expect to submit to the FA until late September due to the heavy caseload -- will detail 10 to 12 clubs as case studies, naming them and individuals if it is determined that they did not take the correct steps when informed of abuse allegations.

He may recommend sanctions to the FA.

The inquiry, established in December 2016, has so far spoken to 29 survivors of abuse and hopes to speak to another 10 to 15.

Sheldon's five-man team of lawyers continues to review FA documents relating to child protection, having so far examined more than 3,000 boxes of files.

To date, the inquiry has uploaded approximately 500,000 pages of material from 6,000 FA files to a digital platform, and 353 documents have been identified as highly relevant. Of these, Sheldon has personally reviewed around half.

The QC expects to have reviewed all the relevant documents by the end of April, while he hopes to write the final report, originally scheduled to be submitted to the FA this week, in August.

Sheldon hopes the FA will publish the report in the fullest possible detail.

Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.

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