DSN v Blackpool Football Club Ltd

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
JudgeMr Justice Griffiths
Judgment Date13 March 2020
Neutral Citation[2020] EWHC 595 (QB)
CourtQueen's Bench Division
Docket NumberCase No: QB-2018-005979
Date13 March 2020

[2020] EWHC 595 (QB)

IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE

QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION

Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

Before:

Mr Justice Griffiths

Case No: QB-2018-005979

Between:
DSN
Claimant
and
Blackpool Football Club Limited
Defendant

James Counsell QC (instructed by Bolt Burdon Kemp) for the Claimant

Michael Kent QC and Nicholas Fewtrell (instructed by Keoghs LLP) for the Defendant

Hearing dates: 27–31 January 2020

Approved Judgment

I direct that pursuant to CPR PD 39A para 6.1 no official shorthand note shall be taken of this Judgment and that copies of this version as handed down may be treated as authentic.

Mr Justice Griffiths Mr Justice Griffiths
1

Frank Roper was a convicted sexual abuser. The Claimant brings this action for damages for sexual abuse by Roper during a youth football trip to New Zealand in June 1987 and the effects of it upon him in later life. The Defendant (“Blackpool FC”) is a football club which Frank Roper was associated with at the time and which is said to be vicariously liable for these damages. Frank Roper himself is now dead.

2

The identity of the Claimant, and of some of the witnesses who, like him, have given evidence to me of sexual abuse by Roper, is protected by orders made earlier in these proceedings. He is therefore referred to as “DSN”, and those other witnesses are also referred to by various initials. These orders were made under section 11 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 and CPR Rule 5.4A to 5.4D and CPR Rule 39.2(4) and the inherent jurisdiction of the court.

The issues

3

There are five issues for me to decide. The five issues were agreed as follows:-

i) Should the limitation period be extended under the discretion provided by section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980?

ii) Was DSN sexually abused by Roper and what was the extent of the assault?

iii) Is the Defendant vicariously liable?

iv) What is the causation and effect of DSN's psychiatric diagnoses?

v) What damages is DSN entitled to?

Outline chronology

4

A brief chronology of the agreed background facts is as follows. I will consider particular points in more detail when deciding the issues.

5

Roper was convicted on four occasions of indecent assaults on males before the events involving Roper and DSN with which this trial is concerned. The age of his victims was not specified for the two earliest offences, but they were specified as boys under 14 in the two later offences, and I infer from the evidence as a whole that all four were probably committed against young boys. They were all convictions for indecent assault on a male contrary to section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act 1956 and are recorded in 1960, 1961, 1965 and 1984 – this last date being only the year before DSN says he and his parents first saw Roper, which was in 1985. DSN was born in 1974.

6

DSN went to his secondary school in September 1985. On 11 November 1985 he was registered with Blackpool FC's “Centre of Excellence” (a concept I will consider further below) for the 1985–86 season. In 1987 he played for the Lancashire Boys' Club Under 14 team.

7

On 19 March 1987, Blackpool FC sold one of its first team players, Paul Stewart, for a record fee of £200,000. Stewart had come through the youth system and had originally been introduced to the club by Roper. I will say more about the significance of this later.

8

In June 1987, Roper took a squad of young football players, including DSN, who was then 13 years old, on a football tour to New Zealand. The trip started in New Zealand on 1 June 1987 and continued until 19 June, when it proceeded to Bangkok. The return flight from Thailand to England was on 30 June 1987. It was in the course of this tour that DSN alleges that he was sexually abused by Roper in New Zealand.

9

DSN stopped going to the Blackpool FC Centre of Excellence after that. His evidence is that he was not invited, after refusing an invitation by Roper to join Roper's youth side “Nova Juniors”, which was informally associated with Blackpool FC. I consider the evidence on this in more detail, below.

10

DSN went from school to university, and graduated in 1995. In 1997, he began his relationship with the woman who is now his wife: he was then 23 years old. They married in 2002 and have 3 children.

11

Roper died on 13 September 2005.

12

Jack Chapman, Blackpool FC's youth coach (whose role I consider in more detail, later), died on 14 May 2012.

13

The Jimmy Savile scandal and publicity encouraged DSN to disclose Roper's abuse, but only to his wife, in 2013. His mental health was seriously affected by the disclosure. In November 2016, DSN contacted the NSPCC about the abuse and also made a statement to the police. Shortly after (December 2016), he was prescribed mirtazapine by his GP, to address anxiety and sleeping problems. In 2017 he received counselling.

14

In April 2017 he instructed solicitors. The letter before claim is dated 13 July 2017. A protocol response was sent by Blackpool FC on 15 December 2017 and the Claim Form was issued on 19 January 2018.

The evidence

15

In the course of the trial, I heard evidence from 18 witnesses of fact. 16 were cross examined, one was not required for cross examination, and one was not able to attend by reason of ill health, with the result that cross examination was not possible.

16

I also had evidence from two expert psychiatric witnesses by way of reports and a joint statement.

17

There were two lever arch files of documents, and these included some redacted and anonymised statements obtained in the course of a police enquiry. However, since they were anonymous, incomplete, and could not be tested, and since the matters they dealt with were more reliably and directly addressed by a number of witnesses before me, I do not place weight on them.

18

Three witnesses were adult and close to the playing side in Blackpool in 1987. They were:

i) The Blackpool FC manager (Sam Ellis).

ii) The manager of an under 13s team in Blackpool called Poulton Youth whose son went on the New Zealand trip in 1987 (Frank Sharp).

iii) A volunteer part-time youth scout, physio and coach for Blackpool FC during the period in question, although he did not give precise dates (William Hurst).

19

Ten witnesses who gave evidence and were cross examined were school-age footballers who had contact with Roper in the 1980s. They were (in the order in which they were called):

i) DSN (the claimant).

ii) LDX (who was abused by Roper between the ages of 11 and 13 in the early 1980s, but ended up with a bigger and more successful club than Blackpool FC).

iii) Graham Wright (who came across Roper when he was 11 or 12, was very seriously abused by him, and played for his Nova Juniors side until he was 14).

iv) Mark Bradshaw (who met Roper when he was about 13 years old in 1982, and went on to play for Blackpool FC as an adult until 1990).

v) David Erhardt (who met Roper when he was 13 or 14 in 1983 or 1984, who played for Nova Juniors);

vi) Colin Greenall (who met Roper when he started training with Blackpool FC at the age of 15 in about 1979, before going on to sign as an apprentice and eventually as a very successful full-time first team player, leaving in 1987 for another club);

vii) CFS (who was seriously abused by Roper between the ages of 11 and 16 and eventually reported it to Chapman in about 1984 or 1985; he signed schoolboy and then apprentice forms with Blackpool after playing for Nova Juniors);

viii) Michael Davies (who signed for Blackpool FC as an apprentice in 1982 when he was 16, after previously playing as a schoolboy, and stayed there for a playing career which lasted until 1995, after which he continued as a coach and was on two occasions caretaker-manager);

ix) ANF (who was sexually abused both by Roper and another person associated with another club, first met Roper when he was 11 in 1981 and played for Nova Juniors until signing schoolboy forms with a better club than Blackpool FC at the age of 14);

x) Steven Harrison (who signed for Blackpool FC as an apprentice when he was 15 in 1967, signed as a professional there in 1971 and stayed until 1978).

In addition, another witness in this category provided a witness statement and was expected to give evidence, but was prevented from doing so because of ill health. I received his witness statement in evidence on a hearsay basis, while recognising that, because he was not cross examined, it carried less weight than the evidence of other witnesses. He was:

xi) JKL (met Roper when he was 14 in about 1987 attending trials for Blackpool FC, abused by him, played occasionally for Nova Juniors).

20

The other witnesses (all but the first of whom were cross examined) were:-

i) DSN's wife, whose witness statement was agreed and who was not, therefore, cross examined.

ii) Kenneth Chadwick, who was the Chairman of the Board of Blackpool FC 1981–1990 (and stayed on as Life Vice President after that).

iii) David Johnson who was the Company Secretary between about 1980 and about 1988–89.

iv) Christopher Wilson, a solicitor from the firm acting for the Defendant, who gave evidence about the effect of delay on his searches for witnesses and documents.

21

I will assess the cogency of the evidence when addressing the first issue (limitation) and also when considering particular issues of fact arising under the other issues.

The issues

22

I will consider each of the issues in turn.

(1) Should the limitation period be extended under section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980?

23

The sexual abuse at the heart of this case is dated June 1987, when DSN was 13 years old. I will go into more detail of the abuse itself when I consider issue (2), the question of whether it took place and what its extent was. The primary limitation period (ending 3 years after DSN's 18th birthday), set by sections 11 and 28 of the Limitation Act 1980, expired in 1995. Proceedings were...

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