Sport Soccer

Friday 15 December 2017

Man City launch investigation as English football's child sex abuse crisis deepens

Andy Woodward (bottom), Steve Walters (right), Paul Stewart (left) and David White (top) were the first to come forward
Andy Woodward (bottom), Steve Walters (right), Paul Stewart (left) and David White (top) were the first to come forward

Ben Rumsby

English football’s child sexual abuse scandal intensified after two more victims agreed to break their silence, and a former Newcastle United player told police he had been molested by a paedophile coach.

Another two ex-Crewe Alexandra youngsters agreed to join Andy Woodward and Steve Walters on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme to publicly accuse the man branded “football’s Jimmy Savile”, Barry Bennell, of having abused them.

In the scandal that has rocked the game, Northumbria Police also confirmed they had been contacted by an alleged victim of another serial paedophile, Manchester City launched an investigation into links between Bennell and the club, and Crewe Alexandra’s ex-manager and director of football, Dario Gradi, denied any knowledge that his long-time colleague raped young players there and elsewhere during the 1980s and 1990s.

The chairman of the Football Association, Greg Clarke, meanwhile, admitted it was “appalling” that the governing body had stayed silent when Bennell was convicted of child sex offences, and Wayne Rooney urged victims of abuse to “speak out” in his capacity as an ambassador for the NSPCC, whose new football hotline received more than 50 calls before 10am on its first day. The charity said information from 20 callers would be passed to police and that it was expecting “many more” people to come forward.

The number to have contacted Cheshire Police still stood at 11 but Greater Manchester Police became involved in the matter on Thursday when they confirmed they were liaising with other forces in the area.

Following a report in The Guardian that another ex-player had accused convicted paedophile George Ormond of abusing him while he was at Newcastle, a spokesman for Northumbria Police said: “We have received a report in relation to an allegation of historic sexual offences in Newcastle. We are working closely with, and supporting, the victim, and inquiries are ongoing.”

A man still working in football has also been accused by two unnamed former players of sexually abusing children.

The total number of ex-footballers to have waived their right to anonymity and gone public is poised to rise to six, with Woodward, Walters, and former England internationals Paul Stewart and David White having already done so. All but Stewart allege abuse by the three-times convicted Bennell, who has been described as having “almost an insatiable appetite for young boys”.

Bennell’s links with City through local youth teams prompted the club to announce they were “undertaking a thorough investigation of any past links he might have had with the organisation”.

An inquiry was also ongoing at Crewe, from where Gradi issued a statement expressing “sympathy” for Bennell’s victims.

He added: “The first I knew of Barry Bennell’s crimes was when he was arrested in the United States in 1994. I knew nothing of his crimes before this time when he was employed by us. No one at the football club knew of Bennell’s crimes until his arrest in 1994 and his subsequent prosecution in the United Kingdom.”

Gradi’s statement did not address Bennell’s 1992 sacking by Crewe, the reasons for which have never been made public. Bennell also had links with Stoke City, whose chairman Peter Coates described the current scandal as “shocking and distressing”.

“The authorities have clamped down on this and it’s something that a young lad in an academy should never have to worry about in the modern game,” he added.

“It was a huge problem in society back in the 1970s and 1980s that filtered into football, but now times have changed.”

Clarke addressed the scandal for the first time after meeting lead whistleblower Woodward at Wembley, saying: “I find it very emotional, and I find it very upsetting, to see a human being having gone through what he had gone through. I told him that we had two fundamental objectives. One was to make sure all the victims felt safe to report all the terrible crimes against them. And, secondly, to make sure that none of this was going on any more.”

The FA chairman, who stressed that current child safeguarding measures were “robust”, also wrote to 30,000 clubs around the country to raise awareness of the issue and expressed his willingness to meet other victims who came forward.

Woodward told The Daily Telegraph the meeting went “really well”, insisting he had not been seeking an apology from the FA.

“This is about looking after us ex-players now, making sure we get the treatment or the help that we need and about moving forward on how we can put things in place so this kind of thing never happens again,” he added.

But one of those who also helped convict Bennell and went public 20 years ago, former youth player Ian Ackley, has demanded that the FA, Crewe and City be held “accountable” for failing in their “duty of care”.

Rooney was one of a number of high-profile figures to hail Woodward for opening the floodgates, saying: “It’s awful that some of my colleagues have suffered this way whilst playing the sport that I and they love.

“Andy has been really brave to come forward and I would encourage anyone who has or is suffering from abuse to call the NSPCC’s new football helpline.

“It’s important that people know that it’s OK to speak out, there is help available and that they don’t need to suffer in silence.”

Sports minister Tracy Crouch applauded the “incredible bravery” of all those who had come forward, adding: “The safety and security of participants in sport at every level is absolutely paramount.” Her shadow, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, called for the FA to help tighten security checks throughout the game.

Stewart, whose abuser has not been named, joined Woodward in warning that the current scandal could be as big as that involving Savile and that there could be “hundreds” of victims.

Bennell was sentenced to nine years in prison in 1998 after admitting 23 specimen charges of sexual offences against six boys aged nine to 15, with another 22 offences left on file. He previously served a four-year sentence in Florida for offences against a boy and was jailed for two years in May 2015 for molesting a 12 year-old in Macclesfield in 1980. Police searched his home in Milton Keynes on Thursday night.

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