Graham Taylor involved in sexual abuse cover-up at Aston Villa, inquiry told

• Taylor alleged to have discouraged victim from reporting what had happened
• Allegations relate to abuse by Villa scout Ted Langford in the late 1980s

The independent inquiry into football’s sexual-abuse scandal has heard claims that Graham Taylor, the former England manager, was involved in a cover-up at Aston Villa which led to other boys being exposed to a paedophile who was working for the club as a scout and later convicted of a string of offences over a 13-year period.

Taylor is alleged to have discouraged Tony Brien, one of Ted Langford’s victims, from reporting what had happened and told him, according to evidence presented to the inquiry, that he should “move on” after the teenager informed Villa in the 1987-88 season that he knew from personal experience, aged 12 to 14, that boys were at risk, having been abused at a feeder club for Leicester City.

Taylor died in January this year, a hugely popular figure after his long managerial career, but the inquiry is also looking at a separate allegation relating to his first spell at Villa, from 1987 to 1990, that another of Langford’s victims came forward with information that could have saved other boys from similar ordeals.

As well as evidence from Brien, the barrister in charge of the inquiry, Clive Sheldon QC has heard a claim that one boy told Villa what had happened and Taylor subsequently visited him at home with another member of staff. The allegation, again, is that Taylor discouraged the boy from taking it further.

In Brien’s case, he alleges that Taylor spoke to him on the telephone and told him that if the story reached the newspapers it would make the player, then at the start of his professional career, a target for terrace taunts. Taylor, Brien says, asked him to imagine what it would be like hearing the crowd’s obscenities every week. Brien, who was 18 and had just broken into Leicester’s first team, claims the message was, “Can you really be doing with the abuse from the terraces?”

The police were never informed and new evidence shows Langford, previously a scout for Leicester, continued working for Villa until the summer of 1989, raising questions for one of England’s biggest clubs about what they knew, what they did about it and how many boys potentially suffered as a result.

The Guardian has seen a letter on Villa-headed notepaper that has Dave Richardson, then the club’s assistant manager, inviting one boy to a four-day training course in March 1989 and explaining that “exact arrangements will be given by our representative Mr T Langford”. The boy in question has reported he was abused by Langford from 1987 to 1989, including at Villa’s training ground.

Richardson, who went on to have key roles in youth development for the Football Association and the Premier League, has chosen not to comment while the inquiry is ongoing but has clearly stated on previous occasions, including a statement issued by his lawyers, that the club were first warned in 1987, leading to an internal investigation and Langford’s sacking.

Yet other official papers, also seen by this newspaper, show that Langford continued to be paid for up to two years after that point. Langford, a part-time scout in the club’s youth set-up, was paid throughout the entire 1987-88 and 1988-89 seasons. His final payment came in June 1989 when he was sacked in the wake of other allegations that Villa did not report to the police or the FA.

Langford, a binman in his ordinary job, continued to work in youth football in the Birmingham area and when he was finally convicted in 2007 the offences related to four boys from 1976 to 1989. Langford admitted three charges of indecent assault and four of gross indecency and was sentenced to three years in prison.

A decade later, his involvement at Villa is one of the cases being investigated under point five in the inquiry’s terms of reference, namely to examine “what that club did or did not know and/or did or did not do in relation to child sexual abuse”. Sheldon intends to interview Richardson and the findings are expected next year.

Tony Brien, a victim of sexual abuse, alleges that Graham Taylor told him that if the story reached the newspapers it would make the player a target for terrace taunts.
Tony Brien, a victim of sexual abuse, alleges that Graham Taylor told him that if the story reached the newspapers it would make the player a target for terrace taunts. Photograph: Andy Hall for the Guardian

Brien, now 48, played for Leicester, Chesterfield, Rotherham United, West Bromwich Albion and Hull City in an 11-year professional career and waived his anonymity after the Guardian’s interview with the former Crewe Alexandra footballer Andy Woodward last November started what the Football Association chairman, Greg Clarke, has described as a “tidal wave”.

The last police figures, from 30 June, showed 741 alleged victims had come forward and 276 suspects had been identified. Operation Hydrant, the specialist police unit in charge of the operation, had received 1,886 referrals and a number of court cases involving professional clubs are under way.

Langford was 66 when he appeared at Birmingham crown court in December 2007 and was described by the judge as someone who “held the keys” to boys’ dreams, molesting youngsters who “would have been in awe of you, unable to quarrel with you or reject your advances”. The team were Dunlop Terriers, who acted as a feeder club for Villa and, previously, Leicester.

All the victims suffered psychological damage, the court was told, including one who had taken an overdose which left him in hospital. Langford’s lawyer said his client regarded the boys as “easy victims” because of their dream to become professional footballers.

Brien, who was not involved in the criminal case, went to the police last December only to discover that Langford had died in 2012. His police statement was passed to the FA and, in an interview with the organisation’s senior case officer, David Gregson, in March, he also recalled Dunlop Terriers going on exchange trips to Sweden and Denmark – playing in Leicester kit – when Langford would share a bunk bed with different boys on the ferry.

A lot of boys, Brien said, would play those games with love bites on their necks. In his later evidence to the inquiry, he was asked to describe Langford and talked of him being “always in tracksuit bottoms, little goatee beard, yellow fingers from smoking his Park Drive and small hands”.

Langford was the manager of Dunlop Terriers, who were based in Birmingham, and Brien was there when they had links with Leicester, where Richardson was youth-team manager from 1980 to 1987. Brien was eventually taken on by Leicester but at the age of 12, Langford told him that if he wanted to make it as a footballer he needed to show the club’s doctors he had a special gene that could be found only in sperm. Langford would then drive him to the Hilltop golf course in Birmingham, close to Brien’s school, and abuse him in his red Ford Granada.

Giving evidence to the inquiry on 10 August, Brien said he eventually became strong enough, at 14, to warn Langford off and, desperate to cleanse himself from “a dirty feeling I couldn’t get rid of”, summoned up the courage to report him when Richardson left Leicester to join Villa four years later. Langford moved with Richardson at the same time, with Dunlop Terriers also switching allegiances, and Brien said he knew other boys would be at risk. “Dave Richardson brought me to Leicester City. I felt as though he was the only one I could really tell because he had that man working for him as well. I wanted to do something to stop it happening again.”

According to Brien, there were a number of telephone conversations in the following weeks and then Richardson allegedly rang him to say the club had decided what to do, telling him: “You’re a good player – sweep it under the carpet, son, move on.” Taylor was then said to have taken the phone and repeat the message.

“They discouraged me from going forward and never offered me a chance to go to the police or anything like that,” Brien said, answering questions from Sheldon and a second barrister, David Bedenham. “We used to look up to Dave Richardson as though he was a father figure. I’ve still got a lot of admiration for Dave Richardson, [for] what he did for me when I was a young man being coached. I thought he was a brilliant coach. But when I thought I was doing the right thing by reporting it to somebody who I trusted I felt let down and I didn’t know what to do.

“I was an 18-year-old child – well, child, man, whatever you want to call it – and you just don’t know what to do next. You’ve actually gone forward and told somebody, but they’ve just said: ‘Well, yeah ...’ They’re like: ‘Whatever …’ and you’re in shock.”

When Richardson was interviewed on two separate occasions by the BBC in January he appeared to remember Brien telling him about Langford and said he had already received other warnings, prompting him to start an investigation that was “dealt with fairly rapidly ... as soon as we got more information, as soon as I knew, we brought him [Langford] in and we got him out of the way.” Richardson added that he did everything possible to help his players and it was “totally wrong” to say he had tried to smooth it over. “The bottom line is once he’d rung me [I would have said]: ‘We’re dealing with it, it will be dealt with in such a way whereby you don’t have to worry.’ I would have told him: ‘Leave it with me and we’ll deal with it.’ I wouldn’t brush it under the carpet, otherwise I wouldn’t have sacked him [Langford].”

Aston Villa say the club has ‘co-operated fully with the ongoing FA investigation and takes the safeguarding and welfare of all players and staff very seriously’.
Aston Villa say the club has ‘co-operated fully with the ongoing FA investigation and takes the safeguarding and welfare of all players and staff very seriously’. Photograph: Michael Regan/Getty Images

In a statement issued by his lawyers, Richardson then said he could not recall any conversation with Brien and that he had launched the internal investigation, resulting in Langford’s sacking, after “alarming allegations” from another member of staff in the pre-season of 1987.

“I took these extremely seriously and began making inquiries. These led me to speak to the parents of two young footballers at Aston Villa who each told me their sons had been abused by Ted Langford. I asked them if they were going to report the allegations to the police or if they wanted me to. After consulting with each other, both sets of parents told me that they did not want the matter reported to the police.

“I respected that request and, therefore, instead I reported the allegations to Graham Taylor, Doug Ellis and Steve Stride [respectively the manager, chairman and secretary of Aston Villa] with my recommendation that Ted Langford be dismissed. This was accepted and Mr Langford was duly sacked by the club.

“In the late 1980s regrettably there were not the safeguarding procedures and protections which exist today. Since the parents of the two young footballers at Aston Villa had not wanted the allegations reported to the police, I did nothing further once Mr Langford had been dismissed and indeed heard nothing more about him until I was told in November 2016 that he had been imprisoned for abuse offences and subsequently had died.”

Dino Nocivelli, a lawyer who specialises in abuse cases, from solicitors Bolt Burdon Kemp, said of Villa: “They should have done more to protect children in their care. My clients have been let down and other children have been abused due to the lack of action from Villa staff.”

Taylor was appointed as England manager in 1990 and though his time in charge of the national team was not a success, he had become something of a national treasure by the time he died, aged 72. He was awarded an OBE in 2001 and his managerial career also included two periods in charge at Watford, where one of the stands is named after him, plus spells at Lincoln City and Wolverhampton Wanderers. Taylor’s family and former representatives have been made aware about what the inquiry has heard.

Richardson, a former teacher and non-league player, began his long coaching career with Middlesbrough’s schoolboys in 1966. After his spells at Leicester and Villa, he became director of youth at the Premier League and was later appointed chairman of the Professional Football Coaches Association, whose website credits him for having “worked closely with the then FA technical director, Howard Wilkinson, to establish the current academy system in professional football”.

Ellis, who was also once prominent within the FA as well as being on various committees for Fifa and the Premier League, stepped down at Villa in 2006 after a £62.6m takeover. Now 93, he is currently abroad and unavailable for comment but has said in the past that he remembered allegations of a child abuser but could not recall any discussion about whether the police should be informed. Then, as now, there was no legal requirement to report Langford to the authorities.

Villa say they cannot comment on specific allegations involving Langford because of “ongoing legal proceedings”. A statement said: “The club has co-operated fully with the ongoing FA investigation and takes the safeguarding and welfare of all players and staff very seriously and considers it to be of paramount importance. The club now has robust safeguarding polices and procedures in place to deal with any new and historic complaints raised.”

Leicester have also released a statement saying the club had “no indication of any current or historic allegations made against or in relation to [its] employees. We would, of course, investigate fully in the event any further information comes to light.”

Brien, whose career also included loan spells at Mansfield Town and Chester City, gave a full account of his story to the police in December but told the inquiry he opted against naming Taylor during an appearance on the Victoria Derbyshire Show on 30 January because the funeral was two days later. “No matter how much has happened to me, he’s still got a family and whatever you call it – respect, dignity, I don’t know – I just said: ‘This is not the right time to be [mentioning him].’”

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