SCOTLAND: As Scotland’s political elite struggle to contain the details behind what is believed to be a decades-long institutional cover-up, the families of child sexual abuse victims say their efforts in calling for the truth to be heard have been hampered by one-eyed football fans who see their plight as just yet another extension of the never-ending Old Firm derby between Celtic FC and their bitter rivals, Glasgow Rangers. Gary Johnston reports.
They say that football, and by that I mean the round ball, so-called ‘world game’ is a religion in my home country of Scotland.
But they’re wrong. If recent events are anything to go by, it’s not a religion.
It’s a cult.
To recap: in January this year, True Crime News Weekly published an article about the arrests and subsequent convictions of a number of coaches from the Celtic Boy’s Club, an offshoot of the Scottish football champions Celtic FC, on sex abuse crimes.
Amongst others, the article focused on two men – James Torbett and Frank Cairney.
Long time officials of the Boy’s Club, both have been recently found guilty by Scottish courts of the historical, sustained and depraved sexual degradation of young boys, some as young as five years old, dating back over three decades.
Given that we are an Australia-based news outlet, we felt that, as horrific and dissolute as the matter undoubtedly was, local interest would probably be confined to the fact that Celtic, a highly successful football team with a massive support world-wide, are currently fielding two prominent Socceroos, Tom Rogic and Daniel Arzani.
However, it seems we were mistaken, as the story has had an international impact attracting views and comments from overseas, and in particular Scotland itself. In addition, we have been contacted by relatives of Torbett and Cairney’s victims whose lives have been blighted by their appalling experiences with at least one, tragically, being no longer alive.
Inexplicably, the overwhelming thrust of the numerous comments on our original story and on our Twitter feed are not, as you’d expect, sympathy for the victims and unqualified support for the comprehensive enquiry into the matter that the victims and their families are calling for.
Instead, we’ve received a barrage of divisive comments from Celtic ‘fans’ seeking to protect the ‘integrity’ of the club, whilst at the same time blaming the promotion of the issue on supporters of their bitter rivals, Rangers FC.
Convicted paedophile and Celtic Boy’s Club founder, James Torbett (Image: BBC)
“A wolf in sheep’s clothing”: Former Celtic Boy’s Club coach Frank Cairney was jailed earlier this year for sexually abusing child footballers (Image: BBC)
It takes a profoundly callous mindset to castigate abused victims and their families for being “infected by Rangers fans’ vendetta against Celtic” but sadly, this appears to be the level of vindictive verbiage purported by at least one popular fan’s forum brought to our attention. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Normally, we would include a link to the site in question but we have deliberately chosen not to do so in this case as, not only do we not want to give the writer of the squalid piece the oxygen of publicity, we are not at all sure we’d be prepared to grant him the oxygen of oxygen]
Andrew Gray, one of the victims of Torbett’s abuse, died in 2017 in Australia. But mercifully, his evidence was able to be delivered in absentia at the subsequent trial, a source of some solace to his grieving mother Helene and sister Michelle, after the guilty verdict was summarily handed down.
Having spoken to the courageous Michelle Gray, I can vouch for the continuing anguish suffered by the family, who, despite ongoing, prolonged intimidation including, inexplicably by any standards of moral behaviour, death threats, refuse to be cowed in their unremitting quest for answers and a wholesale enquiry.
“Celtic claim to have launched an internal enquiry into the abuse more than two years ago,” Michelle told me, “but we’re in almost daily contact with most of the boys – now men – who were victims, and none of them has heard a thing,” she said.
“We feel the club are hoping the issue will just go away but believe me, the families and the many thousands of people supporting us, do not intend to let that to happen. There has to be a comprehensive, public enquiry. Only then will we hear the whole truth.”
So far, Celtic FC, aided and abetted by some sections of the Scottish media and, it would seem, the judiciary, have resisted any calls to release details of their apparent enquiry.
In fact, the club have gone so far as recently engaging the services of a Hollicom, a shady public relations company, in a blatant and stomach-churning attempt to spin good news stories about the club, past and present.
Bizarrely, for an organisation who describe themselves as ‘a strategic communication agency’, the Twitter feed for Hollicom will only accept followers after a period of review. And any subsequent attempt to ask them to comment on the abuse issue will result in the follower being blocked, a ‘privilege’ which has been extended to many people, including the Gray family and indeed, this writer.
Communication for Hollicom, it would seem, only operates in one direction.
All this, the blinkered, unilateral support from some fans, the secretive nature of the club’s spokespeople and the persistent silence emanating from Celtic HQ on the abuse issue, begs the question: what do they have to hide?
Michelle Gray with her now-deceased brother, Celtic child sexual abuse victim, Andrew Gray (Image: Daily Record)
For some years, a strong suspicion has emerged regarding the nature and scope of the level of sexual abuse prevalent from the 1960’s and beyond. In particular, there now appears to be some evidence that abusers were not simply confined to coaches at Celtic Boy’s Club but included other influential and powerful members of Scottish society, including, it is alleged, some from the political sphere and even the legal fraternity itself.
At the very least, it now seems manifest that the assertions must at all costs be thoroughly investigated, since stories such as these, in addition to being highly troubling, surely hinder the open and democratic processes in a country which, in the light of Brexit and continued calls for an second independence referendum, is leaking public credibility on a daily basis.
In the interests of balance, it must be said that not all Celtic supporters have circled the wagons, shooting their arrows of hate indiscriminately at anyone daring to criticise or even question club’s role in the abuses.
For the record, I’m a Celtic fan myself, albeit these days from a distance, but nevertheless there is a significant core of hardline acolytes who would seemingly seek to continue their age-old rivalry with the blue half of the Old Firm – Rangers FC – without regard for the distress and heartache of victims and their advocates, innocent sufferers who merely seek answers.
How to describe those who continue to pour invective on the call for a public enquiry – staunch, faithful supporters or disciples of a small-minded, self deluded and intractable cult?
This isn’t about football. This is a serious matter of alleged crime – a crime which has destroyed lives and one in which there may well be perpetrators at large who are yet to face the consequences of their heinous actions.
Many men, now in their middle years continue to be traumatised by the years of sexual abuse they endured and surely they, as well as the loving family of the sadly deceased Andrew Gray, deserve at the very least to be accorded some measure of understanding and potential closure.
If Celtic FC and the Scottish establishment truly want to play ball, the institution of and co-operation with a comprehensive and wide-reaching public enquiry is surely the correct and proper way to kick it off.
With determined people like the Grays involved, it can only be hoped that justice in its purest form – fair, impartial decency and probity – will eventually prevail.