Football sex abuse: Crewe ‘knew of claims against Barry Bennell’

Barry Bennell

Crewe Alexandra were aware in the late 1980s of allegations that youth team coach Barry Bennell had sexually abused a junior footballer, a former director of the football club has said.

Hamilton Smith told the Guardian senior officials had discussed sacking Bennell but decided there was not enough evidence.

Four ex-footballers have spoken about being abused as children by Bennell.

Crewe did not comment, but previously said they were “making inquiries”.

The English League Two club have also said they are “reflecting from within”.

Four police forces say they are now investigating allegations of historical child sex abuse within football.

‘No overnight stays’

Mr Smith told the Guardian that talks had been convened between senior officials at Crewe Alexandra, who included the then chairman Norman Rowlinson, who died in 2006.

Despite the discussions, the paper says Bennell was allowed to stay in his position as youth coach.

However, according to Mr Smith, a decision was made that Bennell was not to be left alone with boys and he was stopped from having them stay overnight at his home.

Bennell, now 62, was arrested in Florida in 1992 for child abuse and has served three jail sentences for child sex offences, including one last year.

Crewe’s director of football Dario Gradi has said the first he knew of Bennell’s crimes was in 1994.

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According to the Guardian, Mr Smith retained concerns about the set-up at Crewe after leaving the club.

He told the paper that in 2001 he had asked the Football Association to carry out an investigation into the club’s care of children and asked about possible compensation for Bennell’s abuse victims.

Tony Pickering, the FA’s head of education and child protection at the time, replied to say the FA had “investigated the issues and is satisfied that there is no case to answer”.

Barry BennellImage copyrightPA
Image captionBarry Bennell has been jailed three times for child abuse

When contacted by the BBC, Mr Pickering said: “I am not an employee of the FA, I have left there now for 11 years, so I am not in a position to comment.”

The Football Association has not commented on the Guardian’s claims about Crewe.

However, earlier in the week, FA chairman Greg Clarke said: “I think the important thing is to make sure at the moment that people are safe and that crimes are being investigated.

“Following that, we will take whatever action necessary that supports the evidence we get.”

‘Too scared’

Former Wales international Robbie Savage, who played for Crewe from 1994-1997, has raised fears there could be hundreds of victims of sexual abuse within football.

The BBC football pundit was scouted by Bennell at the age of 11 but told the Mirror he was “one of the lucky ones” who was not abused by the coach.

“These boys were at an age when all they wanted in the world was to be a footballer,” said Savage, who called for a full inquiry with “total transparency”.

“If they were abused, maybe they were simply too scared to tell someone or they were terrified it was their football career over.”

A “significant” number of other alleged victims are likely to come forward from a range of sports, said Chief Constable Simon Bailey, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for child protection.

“I suspect there will be other sporting governing bodies – again in the next few days and weeks – who will come forward and who will identify the fact that they have similar problems,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

On Friday, Andy Woodward, who was the first footballer to go public last week, wept as Steve Walters, Chris Unsworth and Jason Dunford spoke about their abuse by Bennell in an emotional interview on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.

Mr Unsworth said he “thought he had to come forward… and help everybody” after his girlfriend showed him an interview with ex-Crewe player Mr Woodward, 43.

The 44-year-old Mr Unsworth said he had stayed at Bennell’s house several times in the 1980s and the coach sometimes had two or three boys in bed with him at once, where he would abuse them.

He said he had been raped between “50 and 100 times”.

Mr Dunford said he had been staying at a Butlins holiday camp after winning a football competition, when Bennell attempted to touch him in bed.

He later moved to different boys’ football teams and said at one point another coach also attempted to abuse him.

Mr Dunford has now given a report to the police.

Neither player turned professional, in part because they felt Bennell drove them away from the game.

Police responded to a
Image captionPolice responded to a “safeguarding concern” at Bennell’s home in Milton Keynes

On Thursday, responding to a “safeguarding concern”, officers from Thames Valley Police attended Bennell’s home in Milton Keynes to recover a dog and other property.

The force said it was not investigating “any offences in connection with the incident”.

Meanwhile, Hampshire Police has said it is looking into claims of “non-recent child abuse within the football community”.

Cheshire Police said allegations had been made against more than one person, while the Northumbria and Metropolitan forces have also opened investigations.

The Premier League said it was concerned by the allegations and urged those with information to come forward.

A dedicated NSPCC hotline – 0800 023 2642 – was set up after the abuse claims came to light and has received more than 100 calls.