Blackpool Football Club have won an appeal over a £20,000 damages award it was ordered to pay to an aspiring footballer abused by a paedophile who was a scout for the club.
The man, who is now in his 40s and is identified as DSN to protect his anonymity, sued Blackpool FC over a sexual assault by Frank Roper on a youth football tour to New Zealand in the late 1980s, when he was 13 years old.
A High Court judge ruled in March last year that the club was “vicariously liable” for Roper’s actions as they were “so closely connected” with his relationship with the club.
However, in a ruling on Thursday (September 9), three Court of Appeal judges overturned that decision, concluding that the club should not be held responsible for the abuse perpetrated by Roper.
Blackpool FC have won an appeal over a £20,000 damages award it was ordered to pay to an aspiring footballer abused by a paedophile.
Lawyers representing DSN said they will bring a challenge at the Supreme Court in a bid to overturn the appeal judges’ ruling.
The High Court previously heard Roper, who died in 2005, sexually abused DSN and “many other young footballers during his time working as a scout” while recruiting players to Blackpool’s school of excellence – a “stepping stone” to signing a contract with the club.
Despite being convicted of indecent assaults against young males on four occasions before he abused DSN, Roper was said to have “the run of the place”, even entering Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road ground via the players’ entrance on match days.
At a trial in January last year, the court heard evidence from half a dozen men, including DSN, who were abused by Roper while training with Blackpool and Nova Juniors, a youth team run by Roper which acted as a “feeder club” and wore Blackpool’s distinctive tangerine colours.
One witness who was abused by Roper between the ages of 11 and 16, known only as CFS, said he told Blackpool’s youth coach Jack Chapman about the abuse, and was told a week later that “he had had a word with Roper and assured me that it would not happen again”.
Another witness, JKL, said he thought Roper’s abuse was “an open secret” at the club which first-team players would joke about.
The court also heard Roper was responsible for bringing in some of the club’s most financially lucrative players in the 1980s – some of whom attracted then record-breaking transfer fees, credited with saving the club from financial ruin.
In his ruling last year, Mr Justice Griffiths found that Blackpool was vicariously liable for Roper’s abuse of DSN, saying: “I am satisfied that Roper’s abuse of DSN on the New Zealand tour, and the New Zealand tour itself, were so closely connected with Roper’s relationship with Blackpool FC that it is just to hold Blackpool FC vicariously liable for it.”
He awarded DSN £17,000 in general damages, and an additional £2,000 to cover the cost of cognitive behavioural therapy.
Blackpool had contested DSN’s claim, arguing the club was not liable for the abuse as Roper was not an employee and the claim was brought too long after the event.
The club challenged the decision, arguing the judge reached the wrong conclusions on both liability and on allowing the claim to go ahead after so many years had passed.
The Court of Appeal judges ruled in favour of the club on liability, but rejected the appeal on the delay.
Lord Justice Stuart Smith, who heard the appeal with Lady Justice Macur and Sir Stephen Richards, said: “On any view, Mr Roper’s ordinary course of scouting involved his operation of Nova Juniors and trying to spot talented youngsters who might be introduced to the Blackpool FC School of Excellence.
“That he took the opportunities that this role afforded him to ingratiate himself with club and players, and to groom and ultimately abuse children, does not provide any support for the suggestion that the trip was something that occurred in the normal course of his work for the club; nor does the fact that his association with the club may have reassured some parents who, for very good reason, had their doubts and suspicions about a trip that seemed too good to be true.”
In a statement, David McClenaghan, head of the abuse team at law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp, who acts in this and other football abuse cases, said: “We are very disappointed for our client with this setback, but fully intend to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court to ensure that he and other survivors have access to the justice they deserve.
“We maintain our view that all survivors of abuse at the hands of football scouts should be entitled to recompense from the clubs who relied so heavily on people such as Roper to feed players directly into their academies.”
He added: “A professional football club holds the hopes and aspirations of many young, talented players.
“That individuals can trade on the reputation of such clubs, in order to satisfy their own depraved desires, whilst the club gets the benefit of such relationships without taking any responsibility for such immoral and illegal actions, is hard to understand.”
A spokesman for Blackpool FC said: “Irrespective of the outcome, Blackpool Football Club strongly condemns and is utterly appalled by the actions of Frank Roper.
“Ensuring the safety, welfare and protection of all children involved in football is paramount, and we have dramatically progressed our safeguarding procedures since these events occurred.
“We continue to review and refine these on an ongoing basis, and will also continue to cooperate with the Football Association and its stakeholders to ensure the safety of children playing football at all levels.”