New police probe as concerns over historical 'child abuse' in football grow

Updated: 

The country's third largest police force has launched a probe into allegations of historical child sex abuse in youth football after recent media reports prompted people to come forward.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) joined the Metropolitan Police and the FA in investigating the growing scandal, which was sparked when an ex-player spoke out about the abuse he suffered at the hands of convicted paedophile Barry Bennell.

It comes after it emerged that Bennell, a former Crewe Alexandra coach, was treated by paramedics and taken to hospital on Friday night after being found unconscious, in what Thames Valley Police called a "fear for welfare" incident.

Hampshire, Cheshire and Northumbria police forces are also investigating reports received since former Crewe, Bury and Sheffield United player Andy Woodward became the first to speak out this month about abuse he suffered at the hands of Bennell.

The Football Association is facing mounting pressure to expand the scope of an inquiry into abuse.

Damian Collins MP, chairman of the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee, accused the FA of being slow in responding to the growing scandal.

English football's governing body appointed senior lawyer Kate Gallafent QC to assist with its review into historical child sex abuse allegations starting in the 1970s.

As many as seven professional clubs are embroiled in the growing scandal, with more than 20 former players alleging they were victims, Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) chief executive Gordon Taylor has said.

On Monday, more alleged victims came forward - including David Lean, a former Preston North End reserve team player.

Mr Lean told Sky News that he had given evidence that led to Bennell's imprisonment in 2015, but said he had warned the Crown Prosecution service that there could have been "hundreds" of victims.

"He was running junior football teams and working in a children's home. There was always going to be more. Many, many, many, many more and I told them. I had already told the police that there were hundreds, and no-one wanted to listen."

A Scottish man also added to warnings that sexual abuse could be a huge problem in the game.

Dougie Gilligan, of Hamilton, South Lanarkshire, told BBC Scotland he was abused by Bennell at two Butlins camps in England and Wales in the late 1970s

He said he was abused on a "very minor level, but I reacted to it quite aggressively". 

Mr Gilligan claimed Bennell had abused him while he stayed overnight at the former coach's chalet but he said he "told him where to get off and that was it".

GMP urged more victims to come forward and said complaints would be treated seriously.

Assistant Chief Constable Debbie Ford said the force had launched an investigation after receiving a "number of calls" reporting historic sexual abuse while they were in the youth football system.

"I would encourage anyone who was a victim of sexual or physical abuse to come forward and speak to us as soon as possible," adding that they would be offered "advice and support throughout". 

Bennell, who was given a nine-year jail term in 1998 after being convicted of a string of sex offences against boys, remains in hospital after being found unconscious.

The football coach, who worked for Crewe, Manchester City, Stoke and junior teams in north-west England and the Midlands, abused boys from the 1970s onwards.

He was jailed for four years for raping a British boy on a 1994 football tour of Florida, and then, aged 44, was given a nine-year sentence for 23 offences against six boys in England in 1998.

He was jailed for a third time in 2015 after admitting abusing a boy at a 1980 football camp in Macclesfield.

Those making allegations against him include former Manchester City star David White and youth player Jason Dunford, plus ex-Crewe player Steve Walters and youngster Chris Unsworth.

Operation Hydrant, which oversees the investigation of allegations of historical child sex abuse within institutions or by people of public prominence, is trying to work out the scale of the alleged abuse.

It has been in touch with all police forces in England and Wales asking them to forward details of allegations they have received following the recent publicity.