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Released On 29th Nov 2016

Sexual abuse scandal tarnishes English Football

In the 1980’s and 1990’s Barry Bennell was a successful scout and youth football coach for Crewe Alexandra, Manchester City and Stoke City.  He also worked with several junior teams in north-west England and the Midlands and he coached football at a number of summer holiday camps, including Butlin’s in North Wales.

In 2016 several former high profile players came forward with accounts of being abused by Bennell whilst playing junior level football with clubs connected to Bennell.  Ironically these allegations echoed similar revelations made in the 1990's that resulted in an investigation into the activities of Bennell and his subsequent conviction of sexual abuse offences in the US in 1994 and in the UK in 1998.  Bennell was given a four-year sentence for raping a British boy on a football tour in Florida in 1994.  After his deportation he was then jailed at Chester Crown Court in 1998 having admitted 23 specimen charges against boys.

The recent allegations of historic sexual abuse re-surfaced on 16 November 2016 when, former Crewe defender Andy Woodward revealed that he had been the victim of child sexual abuse by former football coach Barry Bennell at the club in the 1980’s.

There has been some criticism that Crewe Alexandra has been slow to respond to the Woodward revelations.  Woodward criticised Crewe for failing to apologise and indeed, club chairman John Bowler only made a public statement on 21 November, by which time six other people had contacted the police.  On 22 November 2016,The Guardian reported that Steve Walters, a Crewe team mate of Woodward, had also been abused by Bennell.

The Independent and Guardian contacted Dario Gradi who was the manager at Crewe during the early 1980’s and a coaching colleague of Bennell.  Gradi was asked to say what he knew and when.  Last week Gradi released a statement saying he knew nothing about the abuse until 1994 when Bennell was arrested in the United States.  Gradi is a highly respected former player. Current TV pundit Danny Murphy who was with Woodward at the Crewe academy and became a team-mate of both Woodward and Walters, has spoken out, “If Gradi had known what Barry Bennell had been doing, he would have put a stop to it”.

Other clubs have been dragged into the Bennell scandal.  Jason Dunford and Chris Unsworth made allegations that they were sexually abused by Bennell whilst playing for a junior team affiliated with Manchester City.  David White and Paul Stewart who were both Manchester City and England players made allegations that they had both been abused by Bennell.  Cheshire police have confirmed it had been contacted by 11 people (including Walters, but excluding White and Stewart) to speak about Bennell.  Most recently Anthony Hughes, revealed that he too had been abused by Bennell.

It is clear the abuse affected players of all calibres and indeed those who ultimately played at the highest level. 

The clubs at the centre of the allegations have themselves come under the spotlight with suggestions of a cover up about what was known of Bennell at the time. The Guardian was contacted by Hamilton Smith, a director at Crewe Alexandra from 1986 to 1990, who told the newspaper that he was concerned about Bennell’s relationships with young boys at the club and allegations that Bennell had sexually abused a junior footballer.  However, Bennell was not removed nor it seems were his alleged activities reported to the police.  Indeed, Bennell survived at Crewe despite the then chairman, Norman Rowlinson, recommending that the club "get him out" because of growing suspicions.  The only restrictions placed on Bennell appear to be that he should not be left alone with boys and he was stopped from arranging overnight stays.  A fellow Director at the club said his Co-directors did not want to rely on hearsay evidence and local gossip.  Even more startling was that in 2001, Hamilton Smith met Tony Pickerin, the Football Association’s head of education and child protection and requested an FA investigation into the care of children at Crewe. Pickerin replied in an infamous three line letter simply saying the FA had “investigated the issues and is satisfied that there is no case to answer.”  It is unclear what investigations the FA implemented or what evidence it uncovered.

Allegations against football coaches include former Newcastle United youth coach George Ormond who was imprisoned in 2002 for offences against young footballers in the North East of England.  At his trial Ormond was described as a "predatory abuser” by the Judge.  Ormond was convicted of 12 indecent assaults and one attempted indecent assault on seven boys which had taken place between 1975 and 1999.

That sexual abuse flourished at youth football clubs is perhaps no surprise.  The surprise is that these allegations have not been repeated more often and that the current clutch of allegations have not come to light sooner.

Paedophiles are often clever devious individuals.  They will target jobs that naturally bring them into contact with potential victims.  They can then use the veneer of a respectful position and the power that comes from a position of authority to abuse with impunity, relying upon their status and fear to cover up their crimes.

More and more we are seeing abusers target young people in the context of sports clubs.  It can be tough and competitive and the youngsters are unlikely to complain – as in the instance of the young Crewe Alexandra players - who were told they would not make the teams if they told anyone what had happened.  The abuse has clearly affected these young men.  Even now and despite the wealth that a professional football career has brought the victims, they are still emotionally vulnerable and visibly upset.

Robsonshaw have already been approached to represent victims of Barry Bennell. If you or a family member need expert advice on a sexual abuse compensation claim, please contact us on a free, confidential, no obligation basis on robert@robsonshaw.uk, or on enquiries@robsonshaw.uk

Tags: Child abuse, sexual abuse