British football coach sentenced to more prison time for abuse

Barry Bennell, featured in an Al Jazeera investigation, was already serving a 30-year sentence for child abuse.

Football''s wall of silence - Al Jazeera Investigations
About 100 men have come forward in the last few years who say they were abused by Bennell [Football's Wall of Silence/Al Jazeera]

A British court has sentenced Barry Bennell, a former football coach, to a further four years in prison for raping and abusing two boys when they were aged 11 and 14 during the 1970s and 1980s.

Bennell was the subject of Al Jazeera’s investigation Football’s Wall of Silence, which looked at sexual abuse at British football clubs.

Bennell received his fifth jail term for offences against children on Thursday, after earlier pleading guilty to nine sexual offences against two boys.

Judge Patrick Thompson told Bennell, who was appearing via video link: “You grossly abused your position of trust to use boys as sexual playthings. You were a parent’s worst nightmare.”

The former football coach, now 66 years old and fed through a tube in his stomach due to earlier mouth cancer, is unlikely to ever leave prison as the five years were added to a 30-year sentence he received in 2018 for more than 50 similar charges relating to the abuse of twelve boys.

However, Thursday’s ruling is monumentally important to the dozens of men, now in their 40s and 50s who were abused by Bennell as football-crazy youngsters, aged from nine to 14.

The English courts refer to such cases as “historic abuse”. There’s nothing historic about it for the survivors.

Football’s Wall of Silence revealed that at least four of Bennell’s former players have died, due to suicide or alcohol and drugs. Many other survivors are now receiving counselling or therapy.

The investigation also revealed that one of Bennell’s likely victims was former Wales manager Gary Speed, who took his own life in 2011.

One of the survivors said in a statement to the court he had given up football because of Bennell.

“He ruined my childhood dreams and took that away from me,” he said.

The Offside Trust, which represents survivors of football abuse, said it welcomed the additional sentence but was disappointed that more cases were not being heard.

“The decision not to bring the dozens of other outstanding cases to court is a bitter blow to so many men and their families. We share their anger, disappointment and pain,” the organisation said.

Hundreds of abuse victims

About 100 men have come forward in the last few years who say they were abused by Bennell, whose crimes went on for almost 20 years at youth teams linked mainly to Manchester City and Crewe Alexandra football clubs.

He first faced justice in 1994, after taking a group of young British footballers on a summer footballing tour to the United States.

One boy returned home early and told his parents of the abuse, leading to Bennell being arrested in Florida and sentenced to four years in prison for “lewd and lascivious behaviour”.

After his return to the UK, he was convicted of two dozen more counts against another six boys, and a further sentence of two years followed in 2015 when he admitted to abusing one more boy.

Then, in 2018, he was sentenced to 30 years in prison with an additional year on licence.

Thursday’s case was the last criminal prosecution of Bennell, leaving at least 80 men who will never see him face justice for what he did to them.

Some are happy he is at least behind bars, they told Al Jazeera, although some others would like a court to hear the effects he had on their lives but have found it too hard to face the ordeal of taking it through the legal system.

Many survivors are involved in civil lawsuits against Manchester City and Crewe, which are taking years to settle.

Manchester City has also commissioned lawyers to investigate Bennell’s involvement with the club, the result of which could be released in the coming months.

In the coming weeks, the Football Association may finally publish its own investigation into the abuse that pervaded the game in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Bennell case prompted hundreds of men to come forward to reveal abuse at dozens of other high profile clubs, including Chelsea, Newcastle, Southampton and Celtic.

Deborah Davies is a reporter with Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit. She originally broke Bennell’s story on British television in Soccer’s Foul Play, in 1997.

The programme also revealed how another coach, Bob Higgins, had abused boys at Southampton and Peterborough football clubs and exposed the lack of action taken by the Football Association. Higgins remained free until 2019 when he was finally convicted of abusing 24 young footballers and jailed for 24 years.

Source: Al Jazeera