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Sexual Abuse | Former Football Players Speak Up

Last week, the former professional footballer Andy Woodward waved his right to anonymity to speak publicly about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child by his youth coach, scout and serial paedophile, Barry Bennell.

Crew Alexandra

Bennell, now 62, was employed at Crewe Alexandra in the 80s and 90s. He also had a close association with Stoke and Manchester City, along with various other junior teams in Cheshire and Greater Manchester, as well as Derbyshire and Staffordshire.

Speaking on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show, Woodward said he was playing for Stockport Boys when he caught Bennell’s attention. He was invited to train with one of Bennell’s teams on Manchester City’s pitches at Platt Lane, before being directed towards Crewe Alexandra’s youth setup.

Sexual abuse

From the age of 11, Bennell would abuse Woodward at his home in the Peak District. A home which Mr Woodward describes as ‘a treasure trove, a child’s dream’ filled with fruit machines, pool tables and exotic animals. According to the former footballer, now 43, Bennell would use threats and blackmail to keep his victims quiet.

“What he’d do sometimes, to show the fear factor and make sure I never told anyone, was get out some nun-chucks,

“He was a master with them. He’d tell me to hold out a piece of paper. I’d be physically shaking. Then he’d hit it with enough force to split it in half and make a little comment: ‘You see what I can do, you see how powerful I am?’

“It was either threats of violence or he’d use football to manipulate control. If I upset him in any way, he’d drop me from the team. ‘At any point,’ he’d tell me, ‘you will go, you will disappear and that dream won’t happen.’ It was emotional blackmail, all the time.”

When Woodward was 14, Bennell began a relationship with his older sister. She was sixteen and as Bennell was significantly older, he told his teenage victim that he would never play football again he told anyone about their relationship. Once the relationship became public, the paedophile would come round for dinner every Sunday, forcing his victim to suffer in silence as he laughed and joked with his family. Then at age 18, Woodward was forced to stand by his abuser’s side as he married his sister and became his brother-in-law.

Woodward made his professional debut for Crewe aged 19 and went on to sign for Bury in 1995, then Sheffield United and Scunthorpe United. His career ended at the age of 29. According to Woodward, this was because he was unable to cope with the unbearable aftereffects of the abuse he had endured for so long – he would often break down, suffering panic attacks during matches.

Police investigation

Another victim of Bennell reported their abuse to police and three different forces began an investigation into the youth coach. The investigation, led by Cheshire, Derbyshire and North Wales police, also involved allegations of the abuse of young boys in Spain and the United States.

Multiple prison sentences

In 1998, Barry Bennell was sentenced to nine years in prison after he pleaded guilty to sexual offences against a six boys, aged between 9 and 15 at the time of their abuse. He was primarily charged with a total of 45 offences, including buggery and attempted buggery, but was only charged for 23. The other 22 cases were allowed to lie on file.

The hearing took place at Chester Crown Court, during which a number of disturbing truths came to light. The court heard how one of the offences had taken place at the home of Crewe Alexandra’s manager of more than 24 years, Dario Gradi – although he was unaware of the abuse. Another offence took place on one of the club’s training pitches. The Judge told the court that Bennell would exploit the power he had to “point young boys in the right direction and help them with their careers and wishes to become successful footballers. They were prepared to do almost anything you asked.”

Following his release, Bennell was sent back to jail – this time in the US. He was arrested in Florida and served a four-year sentence in the States for offences against a boy during a football tour. Bennell was described by US authorities as having “almost an insatiable appetite” for young boys.

Then in May 2015, the former scout was sentenced to two years in prison for another historical sexual offence, the abuse of a 12-year-old boy on a football course in Macclesfield in 1980.

Bennell has since been released from prison.

More victims come forward

Woodward has said that he has spoken of his abuse publicly in the belief there are many others who suffered the same ordeal. Due to Bennell’s employment and association with so many youth teams over a three decade period, it is thought the number of victims of sexual abuse in football could potentially be in the hundreds.

According to Chester police, since Mr Woodward’s interview on the Victoria Derbyshire programme a total of 11 people have come forward to speak of their abuse as young aspiring young footballers at the hands of Bennell.

Chris Unsworth, 44, said he decided to wave his anonymity after his girlfriend showed him Woodward’s interview on the show. Mr Unsworth was a youth player at Manchester City when Bennell was there. He then proceeded to move to Crewe with the coach when he was about 12 years old. Mr Unsworth would stay at Bennell’s house with a number of other boys. They would all stay in the same bed with Bennell and this is where the abuse would take place. Mr Unsworth was just 9 years old. He added:

“We never spoke to each other about it; I was raped between 50 and 100 times.”

Another victim, Jason Dunford, said that Bennell attempted to touch him when he was staying at a Butlins holiday camp after winning a football tournament with the Manchester City youth team. He told Bennell to ‘get off’ him and according to Mr Dunford he was ‘tormented’ by Bennell from that point.

Former Manchester City and England player, David White, 49, said Bennell abused him between 1979 and 1980.
Ex-Crewe Alexandra player Steve Walters, 44, said he had also been abused by Bennell when he was 13 or 14. The offence took place during a trip to Anglesey. Mr Walters added that he “struggles with nightmares and sleeping problems” and had has counselling.

Other abusers

In his interview, Woodward also added that he strongly believes that Bennell and another paedophile worked together to plot the abuse that took place.

A dedicated NSPCC hotline was set up after the claims relating to former footballers were made public. The hotline has received over 100 calls from alleged victims within the first two hours of going live.

Ex-Liverpool player Paul Stewart has come forward to speak of how he was abused by another coach every day for four years. Mr Stewart claims his abuser got away with the offences because he threatened to kill his relatives if he ever told anyone.

One other former footballer has spoken out about how he was a victim of George Ormond, the former Newcastle United youth coach who was jailed in 2002 for sexually abusing young footballers.

Sexual abuse & assault claims – expert advice

If you have been affected by any instance of physical sexual abuse or by any instance of non-physical sexual abuse, contact us today. We offer expert advice on sexual abuse claims, and we guarantee your confidentiality at all times. For further information, and to discover how we could help you, begin a conversation with our experienced and friendly team. Call 0800 888 6 888 or email info@hampsonhughes.com.

Source: BBC News; Guardian; Sky News; Liverpool Echo

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