Thursday 17 January 2019

English football crisis: 'Industrial scale child molester' coach guilty of 43 sex offences

Barry Bennell. Photo: PA
Barry Bennell. Photo: PA

Patrick Sawer

A serial paedophile who groomed children with the promise of making them football stars has been convicted at Liverpool Crown Court of a total of 43 counts of child sex abuse against 11 victims.

Barry Bennell, a football coach and youth scout for a string of top clubs who has previously received three jail sentences for similar offences, was found guilty at Liverpool Crown Court yesterday of a further seven counts of abuse and rape.

It is understood the total number of victims assaulted by the 64-year-old could be more than 100 after 86 more people came forward to report abuse following publicity about the case.

During the course of his trial, Bennell, who worked for clubs including Stoke City, Crewe Alexandra and Manchester City, was described as a "child molester on an industrial scale" who would not just groom his victims, but also their families.

Victims who had been coached by Bennell as boys told how he had a "power hold" over them as they dreamed of becoming professional footballers.

He was described by one victim as being been treated like "God" at Manchester City's Maine Road ground.

Andy Woodward, a previous victim of Barry Bennell, and his partner Zelda. Photo: PA Wire
Andy Woodward, a previous victim of Barry Bennell, and his partner Zelda. Photo: PA Wire

A cheer of "yes" came from the public gallery where six complainants sat with family members as the final verdicts were read out.

Bennell, who appeared via videolink from prison, could be seen shaking his head at times and muttering when the final guilty verdicts were returned yesterday.

He abused the boys at his homes, where he had arcade games and exotic pets including a puma and a monkey, but also on trips away and in his car while on the way to and from training.

One victim, who he had admitted abusing in 1998, said he knew of four men who had been coached by Bennell, including former Wales manager Gary Speed, who had gone on to take their own lives.

The jury was told there was no evidence to link the deaths to Bennell.

Bennell, who had part of his tongue removed due to cancer, appeared in court via videolink for health reasons and declined to give evidence in his own defence.

But the judge warned Bennell that he would have to be in court to be sentenced at noon on Monday.

The court heard transcripts of police interviews in which he admitted having a "grooming process" and being attracted to teenage boys, although he denied the new allegations and said his accusers were "jumping on the bandwagon" following publicity.

Jackie Lamb, from the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "Barry Bennell is a predatory paedophile who groomed and abused young boys who dreamed of a career in professional football.

"He claimed his accusers were making up stories about him following previous convictions and stories in the media but thanks to the evidence from his victims, the CPS and police were able to build a strong case to expose Bennell's denials as lies.

"Because of the scale of Bennell's offending, the prosecution faced a number of challenges, including selecting charges which would adequately reflect the scale and seriousness of what Bennell did."

Crewe Alexandra, where Bennell was employed for two periods between January 1985 and January 1992, said that it wanted to express its "deepest sympathies" for Bennell's victims.

© Daily Telegraph, London

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