Football chiefs turned a blind eye to Bennell sex abuse, says victim

The sport of football puts its own needs before those of children targeted by predatory paedophile coach Barry Bennell, one of his victims said.

Ex-Crewe Alexandra player Steve Walters accused the game's authorities of turning a blind eye to the grooming by Bennell of hundreds of young footballers "in plain view" and that a "culture of complacency and cover up was allowed to take root".

Former Crewe coach and Manchester City scout Bennell, 64, faces a lengthy jail sentence on Monday for abusing 12 boys following his latest convictions at Liverpool Crown Court for 50 child sexual offences between 1979 and 1991.

However Bennell may have more than 100 victims in total as he could face further prosecution after an additional 86 complainants have come forward to say they too were abused by him.

He has already served three jail terms, totalling 15 years, for similar offences involving 16 other victims.

Steve Walters hugs a friend after the verdict while fellow Bennell victims Chris Unsworth (fourth left) and Micky Fallon look on (Peter Byrne/PA)
Steve Walters hugs a friend after the verdict while fellow Bennell victims Chris Unsworth (fourth left) and Micky Fallon look on (Peter Byrne/PA)

Speaking outside court, Mr Walters, one of Bennell's latest 12 victims, said: "For years, hundreds of us were groomed in plain view.

"Lavished with gifts and designer sports kit and taken on trips all around the world.

"How can it be that no one realised something was wrong? How is it that no one protected us then?

"We suffered because of a disgusting predator but we also suffered sometimes because the sport we loved decided that the reputation of a coach, club or a sport was put above the protection of children.

"Our abuse is punctuated by the failure of adults to protect innocent children, the failure of adults to act when abuse was reported, the failure to be vigilant and brave.

"We suffered because of a culture of complacency and cover up (which) was allowed to take root."

Joining Mr Walters in reading out emotional statements to the media was Micky Fallon, another victim of Bennell at Crewe.

Chris Unsworth, Micky Fallon and Steve Waltersaddress the media after the trial ended (Peter Byrne/PA)
Chris Unsworth, Micky Fallon and Steve Walters address the media after the trial ended (Peter Byrne/PA)

He said: "We were little boys with a dream and our innocence was shattered. Our dreams turned into the most horrendous nightmare.

"For decades that nightmare has haunted us. For decades we held our silence just like our abuser told us to."

He added: "We are no longer afraid of you Barry Bennell.

"Today justice was done and you no longer have any power over us. You are nothing to us at all."

Previous victim Andy Woodward, whose decision to speak out about Bennell led to the trial, said he was proud to have helped other victims get the justice they deserved.

Andy Woodward's decision to speak out about Bennell's abuse led to the trial (Peter Byrne/PA)
Andy Woodward's decision to speak out about Bennell's abuse led to the trial (Peter Byrne/PA)

In a statement, Crewe Alexandra said it was not aware of any sexual abuse by Bennell, nor did it receive any complaint about sexual abuse by him, either before or during his employment with the club between 1985 and 1992.

It added he left the club for "football-related reasons".

Manchester City said its QC-led review probe into whether anyone may have used the club since 1965 to facilitiate sexual abuse of children abuse had so far identified two men with potential historical connections to City - Bennell and the now deceased John Broome.

The Football Association (FA), which is conducting an independent inquiry into historical allegations of child sexual abuse, tweeted: "We want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the traumatic experience the victims and survivors have endured at the hands of this individual, and the bravery they have shown in coming forward."

This is for survivors who cannot unlock their pain. This is about the children suffering today. You are not alone. We believe you. We support you. Our justice is your justice. To those who abuse, turn a blind eye, or cover up child sexual abuse... your time is up.@CUnsworth1pic.twitter.com/6p4WVCtLtn

-- The Offside Trust (@OffsideTrust) February 15, 2018

During the course of his trial, Bennell was described as a "child molester on an industrial scale" who would groom his victims and their families.

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

Bennell was compared to the Child Catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, luring boys to his homes, where he had arcade games and exotic pets including a puma and a monkey.

He also abused them on trips away and in his car while on the way to and from football training.

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