Child abusers are "evil in plain sight", says ex-England footballer

He says years of abuse at the hands of a youth team coach had "ruined" his childhood

Paul Stewart

File photo dated 01/07/98 of footballer Paul Stewart, who has said he was abused as a child by a football coach. Eleven people have come forward to police in the wake of revelations about sexual abuse in football. Picture by PA PA Wire/PA Images

Child abusers who prey on vulnerable youngsters desperate to achieve sporting success are "evil in plain sight", former England player Paul Stewart has told Sky News.

The 52-year-old said years of abuse at the hands of youth team coach Frank Roper, who died 11 years ago, had "ruined" his childhood, and that the years since had been "turbulent to say the least".

However, Mr Stewart, who also played for Liverpool and Tottenham, said he had come forward to encourage victims to speak out without feeling ashamed.

He said that while he would have liked to see Roper brought to justice, he was not going to let him "take away any more of my life".

He is one of several former footballers who have chosen to speak publicly about their ordeals in youth football as some 15 police forces across the UK investigate claims of historical child sex abuse in the sport.

Mr Stewart said Roper "ingratiated" himself with his family with gifts and days out.

He said adults who abuse positions of trust to molest children are "evil in plain sight," and went on to recall how Roper made threats to ensure he kept quiet.

"With my family it was to kill my brothers and kill my parents, and when you're 11 years of age you sort of believe those things," Mr Stewart said.

"I felt trapped and didn't feel I had anywhere to turn."

Mr Stewart said he could not report the abuse at the time because it was the 1970s and "a taboo subject".

He added: "I didn't want to lose my dream of becoming a footballer; thinking that clubs might not want anything to do with me because I'd mate this statement.

"I just locked it away and got on with trying to make a career for myself in the game that I still love."

Mr Stewart said he had "buried it for many a year" but felt compelled to speak out after allegations of widespread historical abuse in youth football broke in November.

"I just felt that it was the right thing to do," he said. "We need to support other people out there and encourage other people to come forward and not feel that they should be ashamed in any way.

"At the end of the day we are the victims here and I think people are still suffering in silence, as I did."