BLACKBURN Rovers academy coach Peter Fox will face a high court trial over allegations he assaulted an apprentice footballer in a ‘punishment ritual’.
Fox, 56, is alleged to have twice assaulted then-trainee George Blackstock while he was first-team goalkeeper at Stoke City in 1986 and 1987.
In a civil claim heard at Preston County Court yesterday, a judge was told on each occasion the apprentice was ‘grabbed’ by a number of players and taken to the home team’s dressing room, where Fox assaulted him with a goalkeeping glove covered in ointment.
Mr Blackstock has claimed he was first attacked in around August 1986 - supposedly as punishment for serving first-team players with lukewarm tea.
Another occasion, said to have happened between August and November 1987, occurred when Mr Blackstock made a call as a linesman, in a professionals and trainees game, which caused the first-teamers to lose a goal.
Mr Blackstock was not offered a professional contract by Stoke City and returned to his native Northern Ireland, where he played semi-professionally for Ards and East Belfast. He is now a storeman and driver for a double-glazing firm.
He told the county court he decided to reveal his ordeal in 2008 after he attended a child protection course, when he was asked to manage an under-14s side locally.
Fox, who joined Blackburn Rovers in August 2007 and works for the club on a part-time basis, has denied that the assaults took place and has stressed, in the words of the judge, that allegations of this kind are ‘easily made and can be difficult to refute’.
Lawyers for Stoke City said there was ‘no credible explanation for his failure to make a complaint’ when he was released by the club in 1989 and was not taken on by any other club.
Questions arose over applicable legal time limits for making the claims - which include allegations of assault against Fox and ‘vicarious liability’ and negligence against Stoke City.
Four days of evidence was heard in December as the claims would ordinarily need to have been raised within three years of their occurrence.
Judge Philip Butler, sitting at Preston County Court, said that the assault and liability claims could proceed but dismissed the negligence allegation, ruling that the passage of time since the matters would unfairly prejudice the club’s defence.
The judge also said that the case, which he said was of ‘some public interest’ and should be transferred for a High Court hearing.
Nicholas Fewtrell, counsel for Stoke City, said the case could be ‘for hundreds of thousands of pounds, or millions potentially, or it may not be a claim at all’.
Mr Blackstock alleges that Stoke’s then player-manager, former England captain Mick Mills, and youth development officer Anthony Lacey ‘turned a blind eye’ to the rituals.
The father-of-four claims he has suffered ‘regular flashbacks’ to the alleged assaults. Staffordshire Police investigated his claims in 2009 but the Crown Prosecution Service later declined to press charges.
Judge Butler scheduled case management and pre-trial review hearings for June and January 2015, with the five-day case expected to be heard next year.