Crewe reject calls for inquiry into Barry Bennell sexual abuse

Josh Halliday North of England correspondent
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Crewe Alexandra said it would not ‘duplicate the thorough inquiries’ carried out by the police.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Graham Holt/ProSports/REX/Shutterstock</span>
Crewe Alexandra said it would not ‘duplicate the thorough inquiries’ carried out by the police. Photograph: Graham Holt/ProSports/REX/Shutterstock

Victims of Barry Bennell have said they are “bitterly disappointed” after Crewe Alexandra rejected calls for an independent inquiry into child sexual abuse by its former youth football coach.

The club said the police had found no evidence that anyone at Crewe knew about Bennell’s offending and it saw no need to “duplicate the thorough inquiries” by launching another investigation.

The statement, which followed weeks of questions for the club after Bennell’s conviction, was immediately criticised as “deeply disappointing” by the former players he abused.

The former Crewe and Manchester City coach was jailed for 30 years last month after being found guilty of 43 charges of child sexual abuse throughout the 1980s. Another 86 former players have come forward to make abuse complaints against him.

In its statement, Crewe again insisted that Bennell, 64, was sacked in 1992 as its youth coach for “footballing reasons”.

It has been reported that Bennell was fired days after parents confronted him about his behaviour, and that rumours about the coach were widespread at the time.

But the club said on Friday that police “found no evidence that Mr Bennell was dismissed because of any complaints for sexual assault being made against him at that time”.

After the “extremely thorough” Cheshire police investigation, Crewe said it would no longer be launching an independent review, despite promising one in November 2016 when the allegations were first exposed by the Guardian.

Andy Woodward, whose interview in the Guardian emboldened other players to come forward, said: “This statement speaks for itself. Once again the victims come last, after the reputation of the club.

“What has happened has ruined mine, my family and many, many others that played for the club as vulnerable children. I’m bitterly disappointed with their response, but I’d rather focus my energy on driving change, so no club can let this happen again, than dwell on the past.

“Crewe had a moral responsibility to investigate their own failings. Instead they seem to want to bury their heads in the sand and, if nothing else, at least people can now see the way the club operate.

“As far as I know, they have not asked to speak to any of the former players from this harrowing court case to learn about how this scandal happened and what could have been done to prevent it.

“A police investigation, looking for possible crimes, is entirely different to an independent inquiry being set up to investigate what went wrong and make sure it never happens again. For the many victims, this is just another kick in the teeth but, as shocking as it is, nothing should really surprise us about Crewe any more.”

The Offside Trust, a charity supporting survivors of child sexual abuse in sport, repeated its call for Crewe to agree to independent scrutiny and said the people who were abused “can only move forward if all the facts are known”.

“For lessons to be learned, there needs to be full transparency from all clubs where abuse took place. As an organisation created by survivors, for survivors, we believe that these clubs have a moral responsibility to open their doors to a truly independent investigation. If clubs have nothing to hide, they should not shirk from this duty.”

The charity said the healing process was made more difficult when clubs and individuals “refuse to properly address the past and fail to demonstrate any empathy and remorse. We sincerely hope that clubs will acknowledge this and agree to appropriate independent scrutiny.”

Crewe’s 925-word statement made no reference to the allegation that it continued to employ Bennell for a number of years, despite the club’s chairman at the time being told by police to “move him on” in the late 1980s, following a specific complaint.

Nor did the statement comment on allegations, reported by the BBC, that a former Crewe employee said he was asked to help delete pornography from the home computer of the then manager Dario Gradi.

The allegation was made in a statement to the NSPCC in 2011. Gradi, whose association with Crewe goes back to 1983 and includes more than 1,200 games as manager, has denied any wrongdoing.

The club said: “Finally, and above all else, the club wishes to make it absolutely clear that it sincerely regrets the terrible crimes committed by Mr Bennell upon young footballers over a significant number of years. The club also wishes to reiterate its deepest sympathies to the victims and survivors of Barry Bennell.”

What to read next

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes