Bennell victims launch damages claims against Manchester City and Crewe
Four people are set to pursue legal claims while three other complainants are expected to seek advice.
A number of civil claims for damages have been launched by victims of Barry Bennell against Manchester City and Crewe Alexandra, with more set to follow.
Bennell, 64, coached a number of junior boys’ teams in the early to mid-1980s which provided youth recruits for City. Between 1985 and 1992, he was on the coaching staff at Crewe.
His trial at Liverpool Crown Court heard evidence he was widely revered in the football world for his advanced coaching skills which were “far ahead” of his contemporaries.
However, the outwardly flashy, charming Bennell used both clubs as vehicles to groom and manipulate pre-pubescent boys before sexually abusing them.
One of Bennell’s victims said he was targeted “straight away” in Bennell’s Mercedes car when he started to give him lifts to and from City’s then training ground at Platt Lane.
Like many other victims, he was then abused at Bennell’s home address as boys regularly stayed there overnight.
Bennell was said by another complainant to have been treated like “God” at City’s Maine Road stadium.
Jurors also heard from a third complainant that he thought City officials Ken Barnes and Mike Grimsley had known Bennell was targeting boys.
Mr Grimsley, a youth team coach, and the family of chief scout and ex-player Mr Barnes, who died in 2010, have said they were unaware of any abuse.
Mr Barnes previously confirmed to Channel 4 documentary series Dispatches – Soccer’s Foul Play broadcast in January 1997 – it had received a complaint about boys staying in Bennell’s room at a holiday camp.
The programme also reported then Crewe chairman Norman Rowlinson had concerns about Bennell – who he said had “a certain magnetic attraction with boys, like the Pied Piper” – and contacted City.
Mr Barnes told Dispatches: “He said we’ve had one or two reports about him … mucking about with kids or something like that
“I said ‘no, I can’t help you really because I have no evidence whatsoever from that side of the fence’.”
In November 2016, former Crewe director Hamilton Smith told The Guardian the club had received an allegation that Bennell abused a junior footballer.
He said senior officials including the late Mr Rowlinson had contemplated sacking Bennell but concluded there was not enough evidence. Instead, it was decided he should not be left alone with boys and that overnight stays at his home would stop, he said.
Jurors in Liverpool heard one complainant told police he grew up thinking Crewe director of football and ex-manager Dario Gradi “saved” him when he suddenly stopped him staying at Bennell’s house.
Asked what was the reason given, he replied: “I have no idea. All I can remember is it just stopped. I grew up thinking Dario saved me from Barry. I never stayed there again.”
The trial also heard a police interview with Bennell in which he said boys who were playing for Crewe would stay over with him or with Gradi.
He said the plan was “to save money and to make sure the kids weren’t in a strange bed and breakfast”.
Bennell said his relationship with Gradi was “fantastic” but he said the manager “didn’t know anything” about Bennell abusing boys.
He said: “He loves kids but he wouldn’t cross that line.”
Gradi has previously stated that no-one at the club was aware of Bennell’s crimes until he was arrested in the US in 1994 and then first prosecuted.
He is currently suspended from football by the Football Association (FA), which is conducting an independent review of historical child abuse in the game from the 1970s up to 2005.
Both League Two outfit Crewe and Premier League table-toppers Manchester City are conducting their own investigations.
The court heard three former junior footballers are suing Manchester City while one is planning to sue Crewe and the FA for damages.
Three other complainants in the current trial have sought legal advice on a potential compensation claim for injuries and losses.