Mysterious death of Kit Carson leaves too many questions unanswered

Daniel Taylor on 12 January 2019

Of all the many unanswered questions, there is one that leaps out in particular: why, 15 minutes before he was due to start the first day of his trial for multiple child-abuse charges, was the former football coach Kit Carson driving on a country road 45 miles from where he was supposed to be?

The difficult truth is that his alleged victims may never get the answers they seek about why, rather than taking his place in the dock at Peterborough crown court, he was behind the wheel of his red Mazda on the A1303 between Cambridge and Newmarket and, for reasons as yet unexplained, driving in completely the wrong direction.

Carson was supposed to be facing a trial for sexual offences against 11 boys over a 31-year period and allegedly using his position within football as a veil for his crimes. Instead he never made it to the court and at 9.45am on Monday, with the jury waiting to be sworn in, his car left the road and hit a tree. No apparent skid marks, according to the journalists and photographers who have visited that straight stretch of road, but tyre tracks showing he had travelled some distance over the grass verge in a straight line. Carson was pronounced dead at the scene.

For now, all that can be said is that it is an incredible coincidence of timing. Incredible coincidences do happen, but this one has clearly been very hard for some people to accept. Freedom From Abuse, one of the organisations tackling child abuse, has used its Twitter account to describe Carson as a coward and it is certainly true that some of the people who were due to give evidence against their former coach are asking themselves whether it was a genuine accident or if there was something more to it. Of course they are. And, if you were in their shoes, wouldn’t you?

As you can imagine, that does not make it a particularly easy subject to write about and, for the time being, it seems to me that the best policy is to wait for the post-mortem and try not to jump to conclusions, when it will be for the coroner to decide what happened on that quiet stretch of road near Bottisham, five miles out of Cambridge.

One theory being investigated by detectives is that Carson, who was 75, had mixed up the date of his trial and believed it was starting on Wednesday. Indeed, he took a call from the court asking why he was not there and, in response, gave the impression he was on his way. Could it be that he was confused, agitated and under considerable stress and all that played a part in what then occurred?

It still leaves a significant question about the direction he was travelling – directly east when Peterborough, from where he lived in Cambridge, was 40 miles north-west – but it is not my place to pre-judge an inquest, just as it would be wrong to assume a guilty verdict from the trial. Carson’s name will remain synonymous with football’s abuse scandal but he died, in the eyes of the law, an innocent man, with nothing ever proven.

All of which must be shattering for the former players who had reported Carson on the back of the “tidal wave,” to quote the Football Association chairman, Greg Clarke, caused by Andy Woodward waiving his anonymity in November 2016 to expose the Barry Bennell scandal. The police have spent two years building their case against Carson and the charges took in offences from as far apart as an alleged indecent assault in 1978 to a count of inciting a 13-year-old boy into sexual activity in 2009.

Carson worked as a youth developer at Norwich, Peterborough, Cambridge United and Histon FC, as well as scouting for Chelsea and running his own development centre, and it needs only a cursory look at his list of discoveries within the sport to realise why he was once regarded among the best in the business.

At Norwich, the players he brought through included Craig Bellamy, Ruel Fox, Chris Sutton, Tim Sherwood and Danny Mills. For Peterborough, there was Matthew Etherington and Simon Davies and the story about how the owner, Peter Boizot, decided to buy the club because he was so impressed by the conduct of Carson’s players at a fundraising event.

Carson was so highly regarded in the Barry Fry regime he had a 10-year contract and, speaking to FourFourTwo in October 1999, said he had turned down offers from three top-division clubs because “I couldn’t shit on Barry, if you will excuse the language”.

Tottenham were one. Chelsea did eventually recruit him, as a regional scouting coordinator for East Anglia, and Carson also had strong links to youth football in Finland and Denmark. He took hundreds of players on tours abroad and had a website claiming: “I probably know more about European grassroots soccer than almost any other youth developer in England, having travelled to European nations with soccer teams well over 500 times.” The website had testimonies not only from Bellamy and Etherington but also Dan Ashworth, until recently the FA’s technical director. Ashworth had been Carson’s assistant at Peterborough and Cambridge and known him since being on the books of Norwich, aged 12.

Against that, the case around Carson told of a culture where young footballers were routinely made to strip naked for exercise and body inspections, where he watched boys shower and sometimes woke them in the middle of night to perform this routine. Others have reported being instructed to wrestle in muddy puddles wearing just their underwear, or being told to pair off, remove their clothes, and massage each other with oil.

Carson had always denied the allegations and was expected to take the line of defence that it was important to see the boys naked to check their muscular development. To which the next question might reasonably have been: was it necessary for them to remove their pants, too?

He was charged with 12 offences, all relating to boys under 16, from incidents mainly in Cambridgeshire. One, however, allegedly took place at a hotel in the north-west. Three were at Peterborough’s training ground. Another was in the grounds of a prison and the overall picture is troubling, to say the least, when I have also seen testimony from the FA’s independent inquiry relating to the close links between Carson, Bennell and at least one of football’s other career paedophiles. Carson was prominently involved in the Canary Cup, a junior tournament held annually in Great Yarmouth, where Bennell and the now-deceased Frank Roper used to molest boys.

My colleague Steven Morris has been on top of this story since first revealing that Carson was under investigation and has also spoken to a number of players, past and present, who refuse to believe the allegations against their former coach. Ben Coker, who played at Cambridge and is now at Southend, was one. Shortly before Carson’s arrest in January 2017 Coker said the complainants were “jumping on the bandwagon” and that he had been in contact with Carson to offer support. “I don’t know why they’re doing this,” he said. “It makes me angry.”

Except I can also remember the “Friends of Barry Bennell” fund that was set up after the first boy came forward, in 1994, to say he had been raped by the former Crewe and Manchester City coach. People were angry then, too. So angry, indeed, that many wrote to court accusing the boy, aged 13, of making it up, of sour grapes and worse because, they said, he was bitter about the fact he was not good enough to make it as a professional footballer. Bennell’s friends and sympathisers raised thousands of pounds for the monster who is now serving a 31-year prison sentence.

That is the thing about the people who use football as a means to prey on children: they are clever, they hide their crimes well, they know popularity is a shield and their roles automatically puts them in a position of strength, holding the dreams of those youngsters. Players, coaches, friends, parents and colleagues all get taken in. And if there is one thing I have learned during the last few years investigating the various offenders, it is that they are bloody good at what they do.

And Kit Carson? None of us can claim to know whether he was a calculated, devious paedophile apart from the 11 footballers, now in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s, who were willing, one by one, to stand up in front of a jury, face an interrogation from the defence barrister and go through the graphic details of what they allege their old coach did to them. One of the tragedies here is that what happened on the A1303 last Monday means that will always be the case.

Meal-time story of Hennessey is a little hard to swallow

Wayne Hennessey’s reasoning behind his pose in a photograph was much-ridiculed.
Wayne Hennessey’s reasoning behind his questionable pose in a photograph was much-ridiculed. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Perhaps you remember the episode of Father Ted when word gets around that he has a habit of standing at his front window and making the kind of straight-armed salute that never looks good in any circumstances – but particularly for a man of the cloth. All rather unfortunate this story, featuring the kind of rotten luck that apparently seems to inflict some of our Premier League footballers. It turned out there was a perfectly square bit of dirt on the window of Craggy Island’s parochial house. Father Ted just happened to be placed directly behind it, creating the impression he had grown a Hitler-style moustache, as he held up his arm to wave at some visitors. You can probably imagine the rest.

Some people clearly have no luck and I certainly had to sympathise with Wayne Hennessey’s incredible misfortune after that photograph on Max Meyer’s Instagram account of his Crystal Palace teammates out for a meal, with the goalkeeper striking a rather unexpected pose from the back of the room.

“Yesterday evening I had a meal with my teammates and we had a group photograph,” Hennessey duly explained. “I waved and shouted at the person taking the picture to get on with it and at the same time put my hand over my mouth to make the sound carry. It’s been brought to my attention that frozen in a moment by the camera this looks like I am making a completely inappropriate type of salute. I can assure everyone I would never ever do that.”

Well, glad that one’s cleared up and what terribly bad luck to be in that position, holding up your arm Nazi-style, the other hand over your top lip, while shouting something at a bloke who just happens to be from Germany. “I believe him totally,” says Roy Hodgson, the Palace manager. “I have no reason to disbelieve it.” Of course you do, Roy, of course you do.

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Lampard could look at Chelsea when it comes to spying

Frank Lampard was clearly very upset, with some justification, about the discovery of a Leeds employee hiding in the bushes to spy on Derby’s training before the teams played each other at Elland Road on Friday. But don’t think it is only Marcelo Bielsa, the Leeds manager, who would pull such a stunt.

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph in 2011, André Villas-Boas said he would regularly visit opposition training grounds, “often incognito,” for spying missions as part of José Mourinho’s backroom staff at Chelsea.

A 3-0 win against Newcastle in November 2005 was referenced, when Villas-Boas provided Chelsea with a dossier containing 24 tactical graphics. Lampard is entitled to be upset with Bielsa – but maybe he should consider who was wearing the No 8 shirt in Chelsea’s midfield that day.

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