Paedophile Barry Bennell denies links to Manchester City at High Court trial

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Paedophile, former football coach Barry Bennell has denied being linked to Manchester City during the 1980s after eight men who say he abused them made damages claims against the club at a High Court trial.

Bennell, who is in jail after being convicted of child sex offences, told a judge that he was not a City scout at the time the men claim they were abused.

He also denied abusing four of the men who have made claims.

Bennell also made a “bandwagon” suggestion, when questioned about previous abuse allegations by a lawyer representing the men.

Barry Bennell damages
A court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Barry Bennell appearing via video link at the High Court in London (PA)

The eight men, who are now in their 40s and 50s, say Bennell, 67, abused them when they were playing schoolboy football for teams he coached in the north-west of England between 1979 and 1985.

They claim that Bennell, who became a coach at Crewe in 1985, was a scout for City during that time and argue that the relationship between Bennell and City was “one of employment or one akin to employment”.

City bosses deny that claim.

They say Bennell had been a local City scout in the mid-1970s but was not a City scout between 1979 and 1985.

Mr Justice Johnson began overseeing a trial, at the High Court in London, in late October.

Bennell, the first witness called by lawyers representing City, gave evidence via video link from the prison, near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, where he is being held, on Tuesday.

He said he had been a “local scout” for City between 1975 and 1979 – but not between 1979 and 1985.

But he said the “reality” was that he “was never” a City coach and “after 1978/1979” junior teams he coached had “no connection at all” with City.

Barry Bennell damages
Convicted paedophile Barry Bennell told the court that he was not employed by Manchester City at the time of the offences (PA)

Bennell said he had “always used and exploited” his previous connections with City for his “own benefit”.

He added, in a written witness statement: “I can entirely understand why some of the claimants may have genuinely believed they were playing for teams connected with MCFC because I was responsible for creating that belief.”

Bennell said he thought he had told then Crewe manager, Dario Gradi, that he was an “unpaid scout” for City, shortly before starting work at Crewe in 1985, “even though that was not the case”.

He told the judge, in a written witness statement, that he had been convicted, at Chester Crown Court in 1998 and 2015, and at Liverpool Crown Court in 2018, of various sexual offences against “numerous boys” and jailed.

Bennell said several of those convictions related to the six of the men making claims against City.

But, when questioned by barrister James Counsell QC, who is leading the eight men’s legal team, he denied abusing four of the men.

Mr Counsell put four names to Bennell – and Bennell said “no”.

“Really?” asked Mr Counsell – “really” Bennell replied.

Barry Bennell Damages
Eight men have made damages claims against Manchester City football club (Mike Egerton/PA)

He admitted abusing two others.

Bennell also suggested there had been a “bandwagon” when asked about previous abuse allegations.

“Without a doubt,” he said. “Give me a polygraph. I will prove it.”

He referred to the evidence of one accuser as being “worthy of an Oscar”.

Mr Justice Johnson has been told that Bennell, who used to live near Buxton, Derbyshire, had abused schoolboy footballers after inviting them to stay at his home.

The eight men are claiming damages for psychiatric injuries.

Six are also claiming damages for loss of potential football earnings.

Mr Justice Johnson has heard that Bennell is serving a 34-year sentence after being convicted of sexual offences against boys on five separate occasions – four in the UK and one in the US – and is being held at HMP Littlehey.

During an afternoon of tense exchanges as Bennell was cross-examined further by Mr Counsell, he denied using facilities at Manchester City’s former ground, Maine Road, for coaching youth teams in the period he was a scout for the club.

He also rejected the barrister’s suggestion that he did so to “impress the boys” and maintained that, in the period from 1981 to 1984, when he returned to football coaching after a two-year stint working in a children’s home in Derbyshire, he was not linked to the club in any way.

Bennell claimed he had borrowed kit from the club and would give it to boys in his teams to wear for their team photographs, and said boys and their parents only believed he was linked to Manchester City because he had falsely told them he was.

Mr Counsell said: “So you are saying that for three years you managed to continue this deception without Manchester City finding out?”

Bennell replied: “Yes, I just carried on.” He said that if the club had found out, they would have notified the Football Association.

The barrister referred Bennell to local newspaper articles, one in the Stockport Reporter, from that period which referred to him as “a scout for Manchester City” and “north west regional scout”.

Bennell said it was “probably” him who gave that information and said “no-one pulled me up on it”.

Mr Counsell said: “Did it never occur to you that it might get back all the way from Stockport to Manchester?” to which Bennell replied: “It didn’t worry me, to be honest.”

The barrister also referred Bennell to an article about a player in a match programme from 1983, in which he was described as “City scout Barry Bennell”.

He claimed he had recommended the player to the club’s scouts at that time, but was not involved further.

Mr Counsell said: “That is what you were being referred to in 1983 by Manchester City,” to which Bennell replied: “Well I recommended him, so what else can they call me, I suppose?”

Bennell denied taking one of the claimants to meet the players at the club, saying he never had access to the changing room and simply left items for them to sign in their own time.

The former coach is due to conclude his evidence on Wednesday.

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