EXCLUSIVE: ECB find insufficient evidence over new allegations of historic racism and bullying against Azeem Rafiq
- Azeem Rafiq’s complaint centred on an alleged incident after a match in 2006
- He claimed he was dragged into the showers, stripped and racially abused
- Former Derbyshire fast bowler Mark Beardshall strongly denied the allegations
- Nine Barnsley players interviewed by ECB had any recollection of the incident
- South Yorkshire Police and the ECB have both decided not to pursue the case
A former Derbyshire fast bowler has strongly denied allegations of historic racism and bullying that have been made against him.
Sportsmail has learned that Mark Beardshall, who played for the county in 1987, was accused by former Yorkshire cricketer Azeem Rafiq of dragging him into the showers and racially abusing him at Driffield Town Cricket Club in Yorkshire in 2006.
Rafiq was contacted by the ECB last December after his powerful testimony at a Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee hearing the previous month, when he detailed the racism and bullying he had experienced at Yorkshire.
An independent report commissioned by Yorkshire upheld seven of Rafiq’s 43 allegations against the club, who awarded him around £200,000 in compensation last November.
Rafiq is understood to have outlined several other incidents of alleged racism and bullying that were not in his case against Yorkshire to the ECB, who launched an investigation into allegations against Beardshall and reported them to South Yorkshire Police.
No charges have been brought, with the ECB safeguarding team concluding that while the complaint met the evidential threshold required to trigger an investigation, there was insufficient evidence to refer it to their discipline commission.
Azeem Rafiq’s complaint centred on an alleged incident after a match in 2006
South Yorkshire Police also decided not to pursue the case after conducting an interview with Beardshall, who is unhappy with how he was treated, particularly the fact that his name leaked before he was interviewed by the ECB. ‘This was a horrible thing to be accused of and deeply traumatic,’ Beardshall told Sportsmail.
Two other former Barnsley players were also interviewed by South Yorkshire Police after allegations from Rafiq that he was forced to drink alcohol as a teenager, which he made public at the Select Committee hearing, but that case was also dropped due to ‘evidential difficulties.’
A spokesperson for Rafiq declined to comment, but the 31-year-old is understood to stand by all of the allegations.
Rafiq’s new complaint centred on an alleged incident after a match between Barnsley and Driffield on July 8, 2006 in the Yorkshire Premier League.
Rafiq alleged that Beardshall dragged him into the showers against his will in the presence of his team-mates, stripped him off and held him under the water, as well as making racial slurs. Rafiq was 15 at the time.
Yorkshire Cricket Club awarded Rafiq around £200,000 in compensation last November
Beardshall was first made aware of the allegations when he received a phone call from South Yorkshire Police on March 2 of this year and was asked to attend an interview.
Beardshall gave a written statement denying the allegations before being interviewed under caution. He then received a letter from his solicitor saying that the police had confirmed there was no case to answer.
The ECB also conducted an investigation with the other nine Barnsley players interviewed and asked if they had seen any other examples of inappropriate behaviour from Beardshall, who has played and coached at Barnsley for 30 years.
All nine are understood to have said they had no recollection of the alleged incident.
Beardshall was interviewed by an ECB safeguarding officer in May and also sent a witness statement to the ECB in which he said he had no knowledge of the alleged incident.
South Yorkshire Police and the ECB have both decided not to pursue the case
That appears to have been the end of the ECB probe, although Beardshall has not been told that the case is closed.
Beardshall, 60, is unhappy with the ECB that he was subjected to an investigation on the basis of a single historic complaint.
He is also concerned about the ECB’s processes, particularly regarding confidentiality, as he received calls from former team-mates asking him about the allegations.
It is standard practice for the ECB to advise suspects that an investigation has begun into their behaviour, but exceptions can be made where evidence gathering from other witnesses is required to support the allegation. The ECB declined to comment.
‘I have no knowledge of the alleged incident,’ Beardshall told Sportsmail. ‘As an ECB-qualified coach since 1980 safeguarding has always been important to me.
‘For the last 15 years I have been a qualified ECB tutor trusted with delivering safeguarding modules — further showing my commitment to ensuring that best practices are followed at all levels.
‘I didn’t say a word after I was interviewed by police, but two months later I started getting calls from former team-mates.
‘My name had slipped out. This could have destroyed my reputation. The ECB appear willing to throw anyone under a bus to survive the current storm.’
The ECB have been criticised over the Rafiq affair, including by Rafiq himself, who described the governing body as ‘not fit for purpose’.
They initially refused to get involved when Rafiq made allegations against Yorkshire in 2020 but changed their position after politicians including Sajid Javid demanded that ‘heads must roll’ at Headingley last year.
The ECB then stripped Yorkshire of international matches and launched investigations into historic cases, including the one involving Beardshall.
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