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 By PA Sport

FA's child abuse review team struggling with amount of evidence

The FA are not expecting to receive Sheldon's report until Easter at the earliest.

The legal team heading the Football Association's £1 million review into child sexual abuse are receiving counselling to help them deal with the stories they are hearing from victims, PA Sport has reported.

Set up to uncover how the FA dealt with allegations of abuse between 1970 and 2005, the Clive Sheldon QC-led investigation started work in January.

Since then, Sheldon and his colleagues have interviewed 15 former players who survived abuse and 35 non-survivors, mainly former or current FA officials and senior figures from other sports, in order to compare their approach to safeguarding with football's.

They have also written to more than 10,000 amateur and professional clubs in England, received unpublished material from criminal cases and been given access to child protection expert Professor Celia Brackenridge's archive at Brunel University.

But the vast majority of their time has been taken up by sifting through the 9,000 boxes of documents the FA keeps in a storage facility in Essex.

With much of this pre-digital age archive poorly indexed, Sheldon's team have checked 1,266 of these boxes so far and believe they need to look through another 2,092 to make sure they do not miss any letters, memos or reports related to abuse claims.

Sources close to the investigation have told PA Sport this work has taken longer than expected and, despite increasing their manpower, Sheldon is now not expecting to send his report to the FA until Easter at the earliest, having initially hoped to do so in January.

The research, however, is not just laborious, it is also harrowing and everyone on the team is taking advantage of the offer of counselling, as investigators can develop secondary trauma or what is sometimes called "contagious" post-traumatic stress disorder.

So far, Sheldon is believed to be happy with the cooperation he is receiving from the FA and clubs, although two professional clubs have been unable to send him any information as they are subject to criminal cases which are expected to go to trial in January and April.

The response from the grassroots game has not been quite so encouraging, though, as four of the 46 county FAs have still not replied to Sheldon's request for help in May and two of those who have replied only did so last week.

In a statement, an FA spokesperson said: "We were made aware of this last week and have been working proactively to ensure these remaining county FAs assist and support Clive Sheldon's investigation with the utmost priority."

It is understood the investigation team believes this is more likely to be "inertia than obstruction."

One area related to safeguarding that Sheldon is not looking at is the FA's more recent situation involving the ex-manager of the England women's team, Mark Sampson.

Senior officials are facing the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee of MPs on Wednesday and PA Sport reports they will hand over an updated version of a report by another barrister, Katharine Newton, into claims of racism against Sampson.

An earlier version of that report cleared Sampson but he was then sacked anyway last month for having an "inappropriate" relationship with a player in his former role at the Bristol Academy in 2013.

Newton has now interviewed more witnesses and her new report could be published by the committee on Wednesday, Sampson's 35th birthday.

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