Barry Bennell nightmare not over, say victims

Barry Bennell's victims embrace after the former football coach was jailed for 31 years

Barry Bennell's victims console each other outside Liverpool Crown Court after Bennell was sentenced

Monday, February 19, 2018

Barry Bennell may be spending the rest of his life behind bars, but his victims refuse to believe the scourge of child sexual abuse is banished from football.

Once regarded as one of football's shrewdest talent-spotters, Bennell was found guilty of 43 child sex abuse offences last week, having pleaded guilty to seven other crimes at the start of his trial.

As punishment for his offences, which were committed against 12 victims between 1979 and 1991, Bennell will serve 31 years behind bars - meaning he won't be freed until he is 95.

But for those gifted young footballers whose dreams were twisted into nightmares by the man who promised them fame and fortune, Bennell's conviction is not a cure-all for football's underlying problem.

Gary Cliffe, 47, who waived his anonymity at the conclusion of Bennell's trial, is now a detective with Staffordshire Police. He told us: "I don't think [child sexual abuse] is happening at professional clubs because the safeguarding is so good. But I know that those paedophiles will have been driven elsewhere. They will go to amateur clubs or they will get their kicks online."

Another survivor, Chris Unsworth, was abused by Bennell from the age of nine and says he was raped between 50 and 100 times. 

Unsworth, who quit football aged 16 and became a professional golfer, told talkRADIO: "I think it was rife in those days [when Bennell was working in football]. I am not saying that it is rife now, but I know for sure that it is still going on."

Manchester City's internal, QC-led investigation has revealed the existence of another potential paedophile, John Broome, with historic connections to the club although not linked to Bennell. talkRADIO understands the club has not unearthed any incidents from the 21st century which warrant further investigation.

Unsworth says safeguarding standards introduced across English football in the early 2000s have made a difference at the elite level.

"It is making it a lot harder for [abusers] to do what Bennell has done," he told us.

Naive and stupid

In addition to the 12 victims covered in the trial, 86 others have come forward to police with claims against Bennell, who is facing his fourth prison term for assaults committed against children.

He was jailed for nine years in 1998 for abusing six boys, one of whom, Ian Ackley, now works for the Save Association, which aims to bring about positive change in safeguarding through football.

He told talkRADIO that the sort of abuse perpetrated by Bennell is not unique to football and could be taking place in a range of other sports.

"If anyone says that this is something from the past and it is not happening today then they are naive and stupid," Ackley said. "It could be the scouts, the guides, theatre groups, private tuition, tennis clubs or athletics."

A feature in Bennell's recent trial was how he charmed his victims' families, even employing the mothers of some of the boys at the video shop he owned. The trust he won from them enabled him to maintain his power hold over their children.

Ackley has a message for parents sending their sons or daughters to play sport today.

"Talk to the coaches, talk to the clubs, see what their practices are and if you think that their behaviour towards your children is unacceptable then go somewhere else. 

"It is not worth the risk."

Alex Dibble works as a journalist and newsreader for talkSPORT and talkRADIO