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Sports physiotherapyJun 28, 2023

New light shed on the activities of disgraced sports physio Phil Edwards at Watford FC

Watford FC has issued a statement apologising to a number of people who alleged they were sexually abused by physiotherapist Phil Edwards when they were teenagers. A statement released yesterday (27 June) by the Hertfordshire-based club refers to Mr Edwards, who died at home in 2019, having previously held a 'position of influence and access within the club’, which is currently preparing for next season's matches in the Championship.

After conducting a lengthy inquiry into Mr Edwards’ behaviour, Watford submitted the findings to Clive Sheldon QC, who published an Independent Review into Child Sexual Abuse in Football 1970-2005 on behalf of the FA in 2021. Mr Sheldon has now released a response to the club’s ‘detailed investigation’ in a six-page addendum to the main report.

 

A mural of former Watford manager Graham Taylor outside the Vicarage Road ground

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Mr Sheldon said the club has been ‘open’ about the investigation and had publicly called for survivors and other witnesses to come forward. As a result, it had been in touch with 29 survivors and taken signed statements from 18 of them. It also interviewed six former members of staff, a former volunteer, someone who had been ‘in business’ with Edwards and two parents of a former youth player at the club.

Due to the passage of time, it was unclear exactly when Mr Edwards became associated with the club, with one person saying he started in 1988 and another saying 1994. No payroll records or invoices relating to Mr Edwards came to light.

The survivors appear to have been aged from 13 to 15 when they were allegedly abused, with the acts being connected to the physiotherapy treatments he was providing on the club's behalf, Mr Sheldon said in his addendum.

‘It included asking players to remove all clothing during “treatment”, requiring players to squat while they were naked and Edwards lay on the floor looking at them, conducting unnecessary groin “examinations” (for a sports hernia, a condition known as “Gilmore’s Groin”), touching a boy’s penis, and potentially digital penetration (one survivor said that Edwards “put his fingers where he shouldn’t”).

We are doing everything we can to ensure that the boys, girls, men and women who play for this club – and indeed anyone who works for or with the club – will not have to endure the experiences these young people did [Watford FC]

Nicknamed 'Paedo Phil'

Some of the alleged abuse occurred at club facilities, but Mr Edwards also abused boys at his home, and may even have hosted them on behalf of the club. The survivors praised Mr Edwards' abilities as a physiotherapist but said he was nicknamed 'Paedo Phil'.

‘The survivors report that being asked to be naked for treatment was something they just had to live with if it meant that they could play football. Some of the survivors have said that at the time of their treatment they did not identify Edwards’ conduct as abuse, but they later came to realise the true nature of Edwards’ behaviour as they reflected on things later on in their lives,’ Mr Sheldon notes.

He adds that the club’s conclusion that there was no corroborating evidence to support the survivors’ testimony that staff members knew that the alleged abuse by Mr Edwards was taking place was a ‘reasonable’ one.

However, Mr Sheldon noted: ‘The Club have left open whether coaching or medical staff had reason to know of the alleged abuse by Edwards. The Club have left open, therefore, whether there was material that should have put coaching and/or medical staff on notice as to potential abuse by Edwards, or of material that should have caused them to make further enquiries.’ 

Graham Taylor

Some survivors claimed that Graham Taylor had been aware of Mr Edwards' behaviour while he was the club's manager, but the club's investigator was unable to obtain any evidence from people around the club at the time that this was the case. One man told the investigator that if the disclosure had taken place, the abuse would have been dealt with by Mr Taylor, Mr Sheldon notes in his addendum.

'He said that “I just can’t believe that Graham wouldn’t have dealt with something absolutely correctly. Everything he did was absolutely correct.”' Mr Taylor died in 2017, before the club’s investigation started. 

Watford FC's statement concluded: ‘We are doing, and will continue to do, everything we can to ensure that the boys, girls, men and women who play for this club – and indeed anyone who works for or with the club – will not have to endure the experiences these young people did.’

‘Watford FC will continue to champion best practice in relation to the safeguarding and welfare of the people in its charge. Further, the input and observations of survivors, based on their experiences, will always be welcome in the future.’

Author: Ian A McMillan
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