Paedophile football coach Barry Bennell has died in prison, sparking dismay that some of the young athletes he abused will never see justice.
The 69-year-old, who had fallen ill with throat cancer several years ago, was serving a 34-year sentence over one of the worst abuse scandals in sport. At least 115 young boys in his care are believed to have been abused over the course of a coaching career, which included spells at Stoke City, Crewe and Manchester City.
However, criminal charges against Bennell extended directly to less than a third of those victims. At Bennell’s most recent sentencing hearing in 2020, Owen Edwards, prosecuting, said no more criminal cases would be brought after a decision was made to proceed only with the most serious offences.
On Monday, as Bennell’s death was confirmed by the Ministry of Justice, one victim, speaking on condition of anonymity, said “good riddance”. “I had my day in court but I feel for the victims who never got their prosecutions,” he told Telegraph Sport.
Lawyer Dino Nocivelli, who represented a host of his others abused by Bennell, added: “My thoughts go out to all the boys who were abused by Bennell, and for those who never got the chance to obtain convictions against him in a criminal court.”
The partner at Leigh Day added: “No prison sentence was ever going to be sufficient to punish him for the pain and suffering he inflicted on so many boys but I hope they can now finally rest easy in the knowledge that Bennell will never be able to abuse a child again.”
During various court cases, Bennell was condemned as a “child molester on an industrial scale” and described by a judge as “the devil incarnate”. He had been serving his sentence at HMP Littlehey, near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, having been convicted of sexual offences against boys on five separate occasions – four in the UK and one in the United States.
All those cases illustrated how he used the promise of making children football stars to groom them and then stop them speaking out. Bennell abused and raped boys at his homes, where he had installed arcade games and kept exotic pets, including a puma and a monkey, but also on trips away and in his car to and from training.
Former Crewe player Steven Walters, who was one of those abused by Bennell, and other whistleblowers prompted a host of investigations. They accused the football establishment of caring more about the reputation of clubs than the safety of children. Bennell, who changed his name to Richard Jones, told detectives in 2018 he thought the oral cancer, which left him needing to be fed through a tube in recent years, was “karma”.
In February 2018, he was sentenced to 31 years in prison for 50 counts of child abuse against 12 boys aged eight to 15 between 1979 and 1991. In 2020, his jail term was increased to a total of 34 years as he pleaded guilty at Chester Crown Court to three further counts of buggery and six counts of indecent assault against two boys.
Former Manchester City youth player Gary Cliffe, who Bennell was convicted of abusing in 2018, said at the time that the justice system was “inept” at dealing with cases on the scale of Bennell’s offending. He had previously been convicted in the US during 1995 of sexually abusing a 13-year-old British boy on a tour.
A Prison Service spokesperson said: “Prisoner Barry Bennell died at HMP Littlehey on 16 September 2023. As with all deaths in custody, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman will investigate.”
Last month, former Crewe manager Dario Gradi was stripped of his MBE. Gradi had been criticised in an independent report for failing to act on rumours and concerns expressed about Bennell when he was Crewe’s youth coach.