Many of those affected should be eligible for six-figure amounts
• John Broome’s victims will be entitled to the same deal
Manchester City are launching a “survivors’ scheme” for the victims of Barry Bennell that will lead to the Premier League champions offering compensation packages, adding up to several million pounds, and ultimately an apology to the players who were sexually abused during their time in the club’s junior set-up.
In the first scheme of its kind to be set up by one of the clubs implicated in football’s sexual abuse scandal, City will announce they want “to do the right thing” on the back of their independent inquiry, still ongoing after almost two and a half years, into Bennell’s connections with the club, where he had a prominent role in the youth structure and used that position to prey on boys as young as eight.
Bennell is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence, with the possibility of another criminal trial to follow next year, and a decision has now been taken, at the highest level of the club, that financial settlements should be offered to the boys he raped and molested during his years at City, taking into account the seriousness of the crimes, the psychological damage and potential loss of earnings. Many of those most affected will be eligible for six-figure payments.
The same will apply to the victims of John Broome after City’s independent inquiry into Bennell uncovered evidence that the man described in court as an “industrial-scale child molester” was not the first paedophile to have an association with the club. Broome, who died in 2010, was another talent-spotter and junior coach. He was involved at City from 1964-71 – though, like Bennell, did not receive an official salary – and nine people so far have come forward to report him for serious sexual abuse, including rape.
The figures are significantly higher when it comes to Bennell, who was convicted last year of 50 specimen charges relating to 12 boys, aged eight to 14, from 1979-91, and has been described by the police as one of the worst paedophiles in UK criminal history, numbers-wise, with potentially hundreds of victims – in one case, even taking one of City’s youngsters on to the pitch at Maine Road, the club’s former ground, to abuse him behind the goal.Advertisement
Bennell, described by the judge as “sheer evil” and “the devil incarnate”, had two three-year spells within City’s junior network, starting in his early 20s, between 1976 and 1984. He went on to have seven years as Crewe Alexandra’s youth-team coach and has been imprisoned four times, three in England and once in the US. At least 86 other people have reported him in England – though that figure has not been updated since January 2018 – and his time at City will form a significant part of the Football Association’s independent inquiry given some of the details that have subsequently emerged.
One parent had complained to the club about Bennell having boys in his room on away trips and Steve Fleet, one of City’s youth-team coaches in the late 1970s, told the Guardian last year that he had told the club of his own suspicions. Police documents from the 1990s question City’s stance during the criminal investigation, with one detective suggesting the club’s priority was to avoid damaging publicity. The now-deceased Len Davies, a scout who worked alongside Bennell, admitted that one of England’s major football clubs was “beguiled and hoodwinked” by the man, now 65, who liked to be known as “the star-maker.”
City have been facing civil action from a number of former players but the victims will now have the option of pursuing those cases through the courts or the “alternative pathway” of taking part in a structured compensation scheme that has taken two years to put together. The club have decided it is “the right thing to do in order to give eligible survivors a level of closure as fast as possible”.
The scheme has been put together by Ravi Nayer, a partner at Pinsent Masons, in the legal firm’s London office, and a QC, Frances Oldham, has been appointed as an independent adjudicator. Oldham previously chaired the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry, publishing a 2017 report into the island’s child-abuse scandal, most notably at the Haut de la Garenne children’s home.
City know of around 40 survivors who encountered Bennell or Broome in the club’s junior system, though the expectation is that number could rise substantially. Six feeder teams – Whitehill, Blue Star, Pegasus, Xerxes, Midas, and Adswood Amateurs – have been identified in Bennell’s case. Three of his other junior sides – White Knowl, Palace and Glossop Juniors – also had clear links to City. Broome was the manager of Whitehill Boys, another of City’s feeder teams. No connection has been found to show he and Bennell were associates in any way.
The compensation scheme will mean the former players who were planning, or had initiated, legal action against the club can “avoid the costs, time, emotional distress and complexity of a trial with an alternative dispute-resolution process”. The idea is to “provide a speedier, cheaper and more predictable means of compensation than lengthy, expensive formal court litigation”.
The tariff will be based on a two-tier system taking into account the range of offences, the length of abuse and its effects on the victims. City’s lawyers have designed the system around the type of payments that would result from a successful court action, though the Guardian’s information is that some of the settlements will be higher. The club will also contribute to legal costs. That alone could run into hundreds of thousands of pounds bearing in mind the number of people who are affected.
At the end of the process it is understood senior figures at City hope to arrange time with the victims by writing to them individually and fixing up face-to-face meetings to explain in detail the amount of work that has gone on behind the scenes and offer the apology that, until now, has not been forthcoming because of legal constraints.
Even though the abuse happened under previous regimes – in Broome’s case, more than 50 years ago – City’s stance shows that the modern-day club have recognised it is their responsibility to do something about it. They are also acutely aware that, to many victims, it will be difficult to forgive the club or move forward with their lives until they have received an apology, as well as an acknowledgment that the abuse did happen and that, in some cases, it destroyed their chances of becoming professional footballers.
Under the terms of the scheme City will request the necessary information on an “inquisitorial rather than adversarial basis”, with the claimants being asked to provide a statement of truth, as well as evidence that they played for the relevant teams and anything else that can corroborate what happened – for example, police statements and witness accounts. In some of the higher-level “tier-two” cases a report from a consultant psychiatrist will be required, which will be paid for by the club.
Nobody who receives compensation will be required to sign a non-disclosure agreement, therefore avoiding the kind of controversy that engulfed Chelsea after it emerged they had paid £50,000 in “hush money” to one of their former players, Gary Johnson, who had been abused in the 1970s by Eddie Heath, then the club’s chief scout. In other words, the victims of Bennell and Broome will be free to talk about their experiences and the way City have handled it.
City have already spent around £2m on the ongoing inquiry, led by Jane Mulcahy QC, into some of the events that have led the FA chairman, Greg Clarke, to talk about it being the worst crisis he can remember in the sport.The findings will eventually be made public and City’s extensive background work in setting up the compensation scheme means the club are confident they have everything in place for claims to be “resolved promptly, consistently and correctly”. For some tier-one cases the entire process could be completed within seven weeks.
City’s scheme is being described as a “victim-first” policy and in sharp contrast to what appears to be an entirely different approach at Crewe, who are also facing a number of civil cases following Andy Woodward’s interview in the Guardian in November 2016, when their former player waived his anonymity to detail the years of abuse he encountered from Bennell in the club’s youth system.
As the Guardian reported last week, lawyers acting on behalf of Crewe and their insurers have written to one of Bennell’s victims, Steve Walters, to say there is “no reasonable explanation or justification” why he waited until his mid-40s before reporting what had happened to him from the age of 13 to 14. Walters became the youngest first-team player in Crewe’s history, at 16, when he made his debut in 1988 and was one of the 12 victims whose evidence led to Bennell’s imprisonment last year. He has described Crewe’s stance as “absolutely disgusting”.