The lawyer who initially cleared former England women’s manager Mark Sampson of bullying and racism has changed her mind and decided he did make two racist remarks to players.
Katharine Newton, a highly qualified barrister, was called in by the Football Association in December 2016 to follow up an internal investigation into claims made by England and Chelsea striker Eni Aluko against Sampson.
Aluko issued several allegations against Sampson but the two central claims were that he made discriminatory remarks to her ahead of an England-Germany game in 2014 and her Chelsea team-mate Drew Spence at a players’ meeting in 2015.
Newton’s first review, completed in March, backed the FA verdict that there was insufficient evidence to say whether Sampson made these remarks, and cleared him of Aluko’s other claims of bullying and racism.
But now Newton has reversed the first part of her verdict after interviewing several new witnesses who did not take part in her first investigation, including Aluko and Spence, and seeing contemporaneous WhatsApp messages between players.
In the conclusion to her reopened investigation into Aluko’s claims, Newton said: “I have concluded that on two separate occasions, (Mark Sampson) has made ill-judged attempts at humour, which, as a matter of law, were discriminatory on grounds of race within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010.
“However, that is not the same as concluding that (Sampson) is racist. In fact, I consider it fundamentally important to emphasise that I have not concluded (Sampson) is a racist.”
Newton added that, in light of the testimony from new witnesses and WhatsApp messages, she has re-examined all of Aluko’s other complaints about Sampson discriminating against her.
On these matters, Newton has not changed her mind and continues to believe Sampson was innocent of bullying Aluko.
She states that if he was still employed by the FA, Sampson should be sent on “equal opportunities and diversity training” as he has “difficulty judging the appropriate boundaries when engaging in banter” with players.
Newton’s change of mind is based on the fact that Aluko chose not to cooperate with her first inquiry, having grown frustrated with the FA’s own review, and was protecting Spence’s identity because the younger player had not wanted to make any formal complaint.
Following widespread media coverage of the story, both Aluko and Spence agreed to talk to Newton and share their messages, and Newton was also able to speak to six other players who were in the room when Sampson made the comment to Spence, who is of mixed race, about her “being arrested before”.
Crucially, three of these witnesses recalled the comment, which was made in an informal setting, and three did not.
In regards to the comment made to Aluko in 2014 – a reference to her Nigerian family not bringing Ebola with them to Wembley – Newton relied on her contemporaneous accounts of the conversation to others.
Sampson was sacked by the FA last month for an “inappropriate” relationship he had with a player in his former job at Bristol Academy in 2013.
In a statement responding to Newton’s new report, FA chief executive Martin Glenn said: “On behalf of the Football Association I would like to sincerely apologise to Eniola Aluko and Drew Spence. Based on new evidence submitted to independent barrister Katharine Newton, she has now found that they were both subject to discriminatory remarks made by an FA employee. This is not acceptable.”