By Tony Attwood
It was almost four years ago that I wrote on this blog that “we have just been told that Manchester City has launched an investigation into links between [the paedophile Barry] Bennell and the club. Meanwhile Crewe Alexandra’s most famous employee, ex-manager and director of football, Dario Gradi, denied any knowledge that his long-time colleague with whom he had worked very closely over many years had raped young players. The number of players to have contacted Cheshire Police is now 11 but is expected to grow.”
I have long argued that the way the media has treated the cases of alleged and proven paedophilia in football clubs has been inadequate, and indeed the way the clubs have done nothing has been a scandal. But now eight men who were sexually abused by the paedophile football coach have started the process of taking the matter to the High Court for damages claims against Manchester City.
The men who suffered the abuse are claiming “very serious psychiatric injuries” and that is not being denied, but this claim says that this happened while Bennell worked as Manchester City’s scout and coached the feeder teams.
That Bennell is serving 31 years in prison for abusing 12 boys, between 1979 and 1991 is not in doubt, nor is there any doubt that Bennell was not an official employee of Manchester City. However it is still possible for the claimants to argue that the club used his knowledge and services as a scout and thus was still vicariously liable for the abuse.
What’s more, all but one of the eight are claiming damages for “the loss of a chance to pursue a career as a footballer”. Two of the men are also claiming against Crewe Alexandra, where Bennell was employed as a youth coach after leaving Manchester City. Some of the men were abused for a period of up to five years.
The claimants’ barrister has argued that each of the men had “continued throughout their adult lives to suffer from the effects” of the abuse.
Both Manchester City and Crewe Alexandra deny any liability in the case on the technicality that the claims have been brought too late. They are also disputing the extent to which the abuse may have caused financial or other losses.
Further, they are arguing that although Manchester City made use of Bennell as a scout Bennell “never had a formal contract of employment” with City, and therefore they could never be liable for any actions which he might have undertaken.
It is also argued that although Bennell was employed by Crewe, there was “significant dispute” as to whether the assaults “occurred in the course of or were closely connected with his employment”.
However barrister for the abused men has argued that in the High Court case against Blackpool FC, that club was found liable for the sexual abuse of an aspiring footballer by convicted paedophile Frank Roper, who informally worked as a club scout – thus making it a very similar case.
The case has been reported by the BBC, and is being widely reported in much of the European media, but does not seem to be of any interest to the press in England, which is interesting given our ruminations of late as to quite how the press in England choose which football stories to follow – although obviously we have no proof that they are deliberately picking stories that suit their particular points of view, or which they are encourage to report, or not report.
For example on 5 February 2018 the Telegraph ran the story that “Manchester City and Crewe Alexandra are facing the prospect of … running into millions of pounds from victims of the serial paedophile Barry Bennell,” but doesn’t seem to be covering the story now on its football pages.
The Telegraph does however have Manchester City story today with the headline “How Manchester United are looking after their academy players during lockdown. …Spanish lessons, baking and online Q&As with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are providing youngsters with routine and structure”
In February 2019, the Daily Mail ran this story, “Paedophile football coach Barry Bennell’s old club manager admits he ENCOURAGED him to take boys home for sleepovers and made no background checks when he hired him
- The coach has been labelled ‘Jimmy Savile of football’ may have had 100 victims
- The 64-year-old was jailed last year for 50 sex offences against young boys
- His ex-manager Dario Gradi says Mr Bennell’s references were not checked
- He also said the club encouraged coaches to take boys home for sleepovers
“Paedophile football coach Barry Bennell’s old club manager encouraged him to take boys home for sleepovers and did not make any background checks on him despite a complaint at a previous club, it has been revealed….”
But again, this time, nothing on the story.
Of course there can be many reasons for not covering the story now. The media may think that paedophilia is yesterday’s news, or that in these days of lock-down people are not interested in how football clubs seem to have allowed young boys to be treated by those associated with their club.
Or maybe they think that stories about Manchester City are not interesting – and of course the point must be made that the trial has not been heard yet and therefore the clubs involved are innocent until proven anything else.
It is interesting however that the story is getting fulsome coverage in some European papers, but not in England.
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