I’m not getting into the whole debate over historic abuse cases here; I’ve written about it periodically but find the subject deeply distasteful. It has nothing to do with football; it happened in the sport, but it does not arise from the game nor influence events in it.
Numerous scandals involving numerous individuals have taken place within the sport as they took place within care homes, hospitals and in places public and private all down through the years.
Football isn’t the only stuff I write about and I’ve researched, and written about, a number of historic abuse scandals.
And for the benefit of doubt, let me clear something up.
Everyone involved in them should be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible.
Even knowing about them and failing to take proper action – provided that has the victim’s support – should be a crime punished by years in jail.
But right there is the first big qualifier; the very nature of these offences means that anyone rushing to pick up the phone has to consider whether that’s the course of action that the victims want. This is an established principle in the law; in order for a crime to be investigated it has to be reported first, and numerous criminals have actually walked on serious charges just because the victim refused to press the issue.
In other words, these are matters of enormous complexity and difficulty. There are reasons why things take time to uncover, there are reasons why people don’t want to speak out at the time or ever, and every single case should be handled in a manner that respects all involved.
This stuff shouldn’t be messed with.
And nor should it be exploited, although there are a lot of people who either don’t know that or are so profoundly disturbed that they don’t care.
I am astounded, and saddened, to see James Dornan MSP leaping into the subject today, by announcing on Twitter, right out of the blue, that he is contacting our CEO today to ask him what he intends to do about the Celtic Boys Club scandal.
Note that this isn’t “requesting a meeting to discuss” or anything like that; it’s “to see what Celtic intend to do” as if blame had already been proved and the onus was on Lawwell to resolve this.
It is as shameful a piece of public posturing as I have ever seen in my life, and coming during a European Parliament campaign, and at a time when the conspiracy theorists are painting the SNP as pro-Celtic it stinks of electioneering.
Let me repeat something that should be blatantly obvious here; Peter Lawwell does not have to answer for events that happened decades before he was at the club.
This naked attempt to shame him in some way isn’t limited to Dornan, but it’s reprehensible.
Peter Lawwell, as hard as this will be for people to comprehend, has no obligation to get answers to these questions and he is certainly under no obligation to do anything about them. That may sound dismissive of the victims, but in fact the first principle in law is that you don’t blame innocent parties and Lawwell played no role in any of this stuff.
Attempting to put it on his shoulders is disgraceful and it simply will not stand up.
Celtic will co-operate with investigations as much as we can.
We’ve expressed our dismay and our concern for the victims.
Some want us to go much further and accept some historical responsibility and square people up with a few quid; let me point out the blatantly obvious.
Even if we had such a moral responsibility as a club – and I’ll argue with that all day long – asking us to accept legal responsibility is a completely different story and it is not as easy as some of those who want to use this issue for their own ends would like others to think.
Celtic is not a private company. It’s a PLC.
Celtic has shareholders and investors.
Even if he felt a personal sense of guilt and shame over this – and he has no reason to do either – Peter Lawwell is not in any position to make offers or settle matters without the consent of the board of directors and the support of the shareholders as a whole.
And I’m not saying this to be funny, it’s a fact.
As the CEO of a PLC he cannot personally accept liability on behalf of the company for something that happened decades ago.
He doesn’t have the legal authority or the mandate to do so.
Celtic’s legal position here is not only a perfectly valid one for a PLC to take, it’s the only legal course open to them. You and I can argue the rights and wrongs of it in a moral sense as you like, but it holds water as far as the law is concerned.
For a publicly traded company, with a stock listing and numerous investor interests, to offer to pay settlements – even those which don’t carry a legal admission of guilt – to every ambulance chancing law firm which comes along would be akin to being found guilty in the eyes of many.
You only have to consider how the media would report it.
Therefore, it is potentially detrimental to the value of the company and damaging to the only people the board does have a legal obligation to protect … the shareholders themselves.
As I said, find fault with the morality of that as you please.
As distatesful as it is, it remains a fact.
It remains the legal position that the club must take barring a full and frank discussion with the shareholders.
If that means defending itself from the allegations in court, then so be it.
A PLC cannot simply just start writing cheques on something this big, no matter what hollering the media and others might do. It is not the logical act of a sane board … and as I’ve said, if someone can point me in the direction of a shred of evidence which links anyone on that board to these events then we’ll talk.
To the best of my knowledge, James Dornan does not work on behalf of the victims.
He has neither been an advocate for them or holds a position in the parliament which speaks on their behalf.
To the best of my knowledge.
But even if I’m wrong and he has been a huge supporter in public or in private, his decision to try and apply pressure on our club via Twitter is outrageous.
There was a way to speak on their behalf, and talk to the club, without resorting to this egregious attempt at public shaming … and it’s all the more ridiculous because it names our chief executive as though he personally did something wrong here.
I have always had a lot of respect for James Dornan. I disagree with him on the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act but believe his motives in trying to eradicate sectarianism are sincere, and I can’t say that for everyone involved in promoting that cause.
I am shocked that he’s chosen to so publicly posture on this issue, shocked enough that I am no longer going to vote for his party in the coming elections and I have grave reservations about voting him for him again personally when that time comes around.
To play with this issue in such a public way is really scraping the bottom of the barrel.
I am tempted to suggest that this has more to do with Glasgow City Council being put under the spotlight by our friends across the city and the trouble it’s causing the SNP, and especially when these European elections are coming up, than it is concerned with the victims of historic abuse cases.
I defended the council vigoriously on that, as you’ll recall.
But I’ve seen this in politics before; attacking your friends in a pitiful effort to appease enemies and critics, and it always looks craven and cowardly to me, because it is.
I do not like writing about this stuff; it always leaves me feeling like I need to take a shower.
If it’s not Ibrox fans singing about it, it’s people in the media and elsewhere trying to reduce an issue of enormous complexity to a sensationalised”Celtic are evil” headline, either for their own gain, the promotion of a cause (whatever that is) or, yes, to win votes.
The plight of the victims doesn’t intrude on their thoughts any more than it is present in their motivations.
If they did care, they’d do their talking in private and let the legal machinery roll on, and let the investigations uncover what they will.
Not a single one of us will plead for amnesty or understanding for the perpetrators and all of us wish them nothing but a long stay in jail and a longer sujourn in Hell.
Anyone who thinks I’d support a cover up or wants to avoid this issue needs to get a grip.
I take this too seriously to trivialise it in any way.
I am sick and tired of the way certain people treat the subject.
I wish other people were sick and tired of it too, instead of clambering onboard the bandwagon.