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James Counsell QC successful in historical sex abuse claim against Blackpool FC

In the first of many cases in the pipeline to reach trial, James Counsell QC has obtained judgment against Blackpool FC for its liability for sexual abuse offences by scout Frank Roper in the 1980s.

The case involved the responsibility of English professional football clubs for sexual abuse committed on young footballers in their charge.  James Counsell QC has obtained the first judgment of its kind against Blackpool Football Club for damages for its liability for sexual abuse committed by a convicted sex offender, Frank Roper during the time when Roper was working for the club as a scout in the 1980s.

The Trial

The Court heard that the Claimant, known as DSN at trial, was sexually abused when on a football tour led by Roper to New Zealand.  The claim alleged that the club was vicariously liable for Roper’s actions because his activities as a scout represented a sufficiently close connection so that liability should properly be imposed.

In January 2020, the Judge, Griffiths J, heard evidence from the claimant and from four other men abused by Roper during their time at Blackpool FC. Many others associated with the club were called to give evidence, including the club’s manager, Sam Ellis, as well as the Chairman and the Treasurer in a trial which lasted four days.


The Judgment

The Judge, whose judgment can be found here, was critical of the way in which the club had conducted this claim, saying;

(paragraphs 188-189)
“I have noted that he was not cross examined on the basis that he was not abused, but no indication was given to DSN or any of the witnesses who bravely gave evidence to me of abuse by Roper (in a case in which they had no personal interest) that they would not be cross examined on that aspect until I asked for clarification myself. I was told that Blackpool FC had not responded to previous enquiries about that in correspondence, and I have been shown the correspondence. It is well known that for many witnesses the anticipation of the ordeal of having to attend court and be cross examined on painful matters can be greater than the ordeal of cross examination itself. DSN was not spared that ordeal of anticipation. In his evidence in chief, he said:-

“I am shocked by the approach taken by Blackpool Football Club. When I came forward, I expected the club to want to engage and to understand what had happened. The main reason I came forward was because it felt the right thing to do, but also, so that the football club could learn from its historical failings. I want to do this so children like my own wouldn’t have to suffer in similar situations, and I have felt let down by the lack of empathy, engagement and humanity shown by Blackpool. Many people have commented on how brave I have been, but I do not feel brave in this process, just frightened, and at times like the vulnerable 12/13 year old boy I was.”

To the extent that (as the experts agree) the period of the litigation has been worse for DSN than the 25 years after the assault, Blackpool FC share a responsibility for that. They conceded nothing at all at any point and made no effort to sympathise or to reach out in ways that might have mitigated the difficulties faced by DSN in the years since disclosure.”

More information

Claimant lawyers see this case as likely to have implications on the numerous cases currently making their way through the court process.

This is the second historical sex abuse claim in which James has been successful at trial in the past three months. His earlier case involved a claim for damages against Watch Tower, the Jehovah’s Witnesses organisation. Read the judgment here.

Press from BBC can be read here and press from ITV can be read here.

To find out more about James Counsell QC please contact Graham Woods or Chris Rowe on +44 (0)20 7353 6381.


News 16 Mar, 2020


James Counsell KC

Call: 1984 Silk: 2017

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