UK

Football sex abuse: Who is Barry Bennell?

Barry Bennell Image copyright iStock
Image caption Barry Bennell, pictured in 1998, promised clubs he would find them talented young players

Barry Bennell has been found guilty of 43 charges of historical child sexual abuse. His conviction is the first since allegations of sexual abuse in football began to surface in 2016. So who is he?

A junior football coach and youth scout, Barry Bennell was a man who boasted he could find professional football clubs the next young star.

He was described as a "pied piper" who told young footballers he could help make their dreams come true.

In fact, the 64-year-old was a prolific sex offender and a predatory paedophile who preyed upon young boys who were dreaming of a career in football.

He repeatedly abused boys - some up to 100 times - while promising to further their careers.

Bennell is now facing his fourth prison sentence for child sexual abuse.

Once a youth player at Chelsea, Bennell was later associated with a number of clubs, most notably Crewe Alexandra - a small town football club famed for developing talented young players.

Bennell worked there in the 1980s and 1990s.

However, he also boasted of a close association with Manchester City, and was linked to a number of junior teams in Derbyshire, Staffordshire, Cheshire and Greater Manchester.

He would scout boys across the North West and the Midlands. One victim said he had a reputation as the best youth coach in the country.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Bennell, handcuffed to a custody officer, in 1998

Bennell also ran summer holiday camps in the UK - often held at Butlins - as well as youth football tours and "soccer camps" in the US.

Indeed it was in the US that his crimes first came to light.

In 1994, police in Jacksonville, Florida, charged him with sexually abusing a 13-year-old British boy on a tour. The trip reportedly involved young footballers aged 11 to 14.

According to a court report published in the Birmingham Mail at the time, Bennell was arrested after the boy returned home from a camp and told his parents he had been abused.

Bennell was sentenced to four years in a US prison.

American police described him as a man with an "insatiable appetite" for young boys.

"He did the con job of all con jobs," Bob Bowers, chairman and founder of the team Bennell had been coaching, told the Daily Mail, more than 20 years later.

"He mesmerised people in terms of his football skills.

"It was like watching a circus master at work. But we were all looking at the football. We weren't conscious of the darker secret."

A 'starmaker'

Bennell's conviction in the US shone a light on his crimes at home.

He was the subject of a Channel 4 Dispatches programme - called Soccer's Foul Play - which aired in the UK in January 1997.

Witnesses told how he promised clubs he could find them talented, young players.

Deborah Davies, the journalist behind the documentary, said a director at Manchester City described Bennell as "a starmaker".

One of the men who featured in the programme was Ian Ackley, an ex-footballer, who waived his anonymity to reveal how he had been repeatedly raped by Bennell.

In a later interview with the Times, published in November 2016, Mr Ackley said the abuse began when he was invited to stay at Bennell's house in the Peak District.

As well as nights away at weekends and during school holidays, he also attended football tours and camps run by Bennell.

Mr Ackley said Bennell raped him more than 100 times between 1979 and 1983.

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionFootballers speak out over sexual abuse

Bennell was arrested by British police after he was released from prison in Florida.

He was sentenced to a further nine years in prison at Chester Crown Court in 1998, having pleaded guilty to 23 specimen charges, all relating to offences committed in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

A further 22 allegations were left to lie on his file.

His third conviction came in 2015, also at Chester Crown Court.

Bennell pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent assault and two counts of enticing a boy under the age of 14 to commit an act of gross indecency, dating back to 1980.

He was jailed for two years.

'Never spoke about it'

The latest police investigation began after Andy Woodward, an ex-Crewe, Sheffield United and Bury footballer, spoke publicly about the abuse he had suffered to the Guardian newspaper, in 2016.

Bennell had scouted Mr Woodward, who was then aged 11, while he was playing for Stockport Boys.

He told the paper he was one of the "hundreds of children who Barry Bennell cherry-picked for various football teams".

Mr Woodward said that within "three or four weeks" of being scouted he had been invited to stay at Bennell's home.

"When you walked through the door there were three fruit machines. He had a pool table. There was a little monkey upstairs in a cage who would sit on your shoulder.

"He had two Pyrenean mountain dogs. He even kept a wild cat."

Mr Woodward said he suffered sexual abuse for four years.

Image caption Bennell has been found guilty of 43 charges of historical child sexual abuse

Fellow footballers Steve Walters, Chris Unsworth and Jason Dunford then came forward, speaking of abuse they had suffered.

Mr Unsworth said he had stayed at Bennell's house several times, saying he sometimes had two or three boys in a bed at once.

"We never spoke to each other about it," Mr Unsworth told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme.

The allegations prompted dozens of police forces to launch investigations, while the Football Association and football clubs including Manchester City and Crewe, also launched inquiries.

On 28 November 2016, Bennell was taken to hospital after being found unconscious at an address in Knebworth, Hertfordshire.

The following day he was charged with five counts of indecent assault on a boy, two counts of inciting a boy to commit an act of gross indecency and one count of assault with intent to a serious sexual assault.

The Crown Prosecution Service said it had received a file of evidence from Cheshire Police relating to allegations of abuse committed between 1981 and 1985, when the victim was under the age of 15.

Image caption A court sketch of Bennell from 2017

Bennell, who was remanded in custody, denied the charges.

He was eventually charged with 55 offences of abuse - including serious sexual abuse - involving 12 complainants, aged 8 to 15.

The alleged offences were committed between 1979 and 1991.

At the beginning of his trial, Bennell pleaded guilty to seven offences, relating to three boys aged between 11 and 14.

The jury was directed by the judge to deliver not guilty verdicts on three charges and two other charges were alternatives and were dropped.

Liverpool Crown Court heard he was a "child molester on an industrial scale".

He had preyed upon boys who "cared only about one thing - becoming a professional footballer".

"Many would do anything to achieve their dream," the prosecutor in the case said. "Barry Bennell knew that and he exploited that."

Following a five-week trial at Liverpool Crown Court a jury of five men and six women found him guilty of 43 offences.

Bennell will be sentenced on Monday.