Child sex abuse scandal: Bennell charged with eight counts of assault

Crewe Alexandra’s handling of the affair coming under fresh scrutiny

The former football coach Barry Bennell has been charged with eight offences of sexual assault against a boy under the age of 14, the British Crown Prosecution Service has said.

Bennell (62) had been under investigation by detectives from Cheshire police. The offences are alleged to have been committed between 1981 and 1985.

Bennell is due to appear at South Cheshire magistrates court on December 14th.

In a statement, the CPS said: “On September 27th 2016, the Crown Prosecution Service received a file of evidence from Cheshire police relating to allegations of non-recent child sexual abuse involving a former football coach, Barry Bennell.

“Following a review of the evidence, in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, Mr Bennell, 62, has today been charged with eight offences of sexual assault against a boy under the age of 14.”

The offences Bennell has been charged with include five counts of indecent assault on a boy under the age of 14, two counts of inciting a boy under 14 to commit an act of gross indecency, and assault with intent to commit buggery.

Given recent media coverage of claims of child sexual assault in football, the CPS asked for restraint and said: “The Crown Prosecution Service reminds all concerned that criminal proceedings against Mr Bennell will now begin and that he has a right to a fair trial. It is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.”

Notorious

Meanwhile, Crewe Alexandra's handling of the Bennell affair is under new scrutiny after it emerged their former youth-team coach was so notorious throughout the sport he had been banned from attending fixtures in one of Manchester's leading junior leagues.

Bennell’s reputation was so tarnished he was forcibly removed from at least one game while on talent-spotting duties for Crewe, and so badly thought of that on another occasion it led to a fight on the sidelines.

Bennell's behaviour was discussed at a meeting involving representatives of various junior teams and Andy Woodward, the former professional footballer whose interview began the escalating story of child sex abuse in the sport, has confirmed to the Guardian that he, too, witnessed his abuser being thrown out of junior games.

“If kids’ teams in Manchester knew about him, and Bennell’s reputation had stretched all the way to grassroots junior football 40 miles away from Crewe, it is strange, to say the least, that Crewe are saying they had heard absolutely nothing to trouble them about their own employee,” Woodward said.

Bennell became so infamous in the junior football scene in Manchester, his home city, that he was ejected from a game involving Cheadle Town’s youth team when the manager saw him on the touchline.

The manager, who has asked not to be named, told the Guardian that at a 1990 meeting of the various teams from the now-defunct Manchester Youth Sunday Football League a senior official had told the clubs to be vigilant and not to allow Bennell to watch matches.

Football scouts

Bennell, who was running Crewe’s youth system at the time, subsequently turned up at Cheadle, a team that regularly attracted football scouts from professional clubs, and the game was temporarily halted.

“Everyone in junior football at that time knew the rumours about Barry Bennell,” the manager said. “As soon as I saw him I marched across the pitch with one of the boys’ parents and we told him we had an issue with him being there. I didn’t stop the match but the referee had to blow his whistle because we had gone straight across the pitch, rather than walking round the edge, and made a direct beeline for him.

“It had been made clear to us that if he came to watch a match we were to ask him to leave immediately and that, if he refused, the advice was that we should go to the police. He knew straight away he’d been rumbled. I got hold of him and walked him to the gate and slung him out. And if we hadn’t have done that, he would probably have been lynched.”

The manager added: “If junior teams in Manchester knew about him, something is surely wrong if people at Crewe are saying they had never heard anything amiss.”

Woodward was repeatedly abused, starting when he was 11, in Crewe's set-up and his interview with the Guardian has been the inspiration for more than 20 former professionals to come forward – as well as many others who did not make it that far in the game – to report sex-abuse cases involving Bennell and others.

Implicated

Crewe, the most heavily implicated of the clubs named, say they have launched an investigation into how the club dealt with allegations about Bennell when he was in their employment.

This follows revelations from Hamilton Smith, the club's former director, who has stated that, in the late-1980s, he raised his concerns about Bennell's behaviour at a top-level meeting in the home of the then chairman, Norman Rowlinson.

Woodward said he could remember other times, going even further back to the mid-1980s, when Bennell had taken him on scouting missions in the Manchester area only for it to lead to angry exchanges with parents and officials from the relevant teams.

“There was even one occasion when it became a physical fight,” Woodward said. “I was around 12 at the time. I knew Bennell could be violent and I was frightened. We would walk round the side of the pitch and suddenly it would become obvious people didn’t want him there. Yet Bennell continued to work at Crewe without any apparent problem.”

Bennell is in hospital after being found unconscious when police were called to a "fear for welfare incident" in Stevenage on Friday. Described as having "almost an insatiable appetite" for young boys, Bennell has served three prison sentences totalling 15 years in England and the United States since 1994 and has multiple convictions for offences of a sexual nature. Guardian service

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