'Crewe knew all about Bennell'

Paul Stewart, a former Liverpool and Tottenham striker who played for England, revealed he had been abused by another coach who moved in similar circles as Barry Bennell.
Paul Stewart, a former Liverpool and Tottenham striker who played for England, revealed he had been abused by another coach who moved in similar circles as Barry Bennell.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM BBC.COM VIDEO

English football club warned about coach who preyed on boys, but allowed him to stay

LONDON • As the police are widening the scope of their investigations into sexual abuse within English football, it came to light on Friday that Crewe Alexandra - the English club most heavily implicated in the Barry Bennell case - were warned he had sexually abused one of his junior footballers.

However, Crewe allowed the man who turned out to be a serial paedophile to stay at the club for a number of years.

Bennell was the subject of a top-level meeting in the late 1980s but was kept in his job despite the chairman at the time, Norman Rowlinson, recommending at one point that the club "get him out" because of growing suspicions about his behaviour.

Hamilton Smith, who was on the board from 1986 to early 1990, has told The Guardian he was so concerned at the time he asked for specially convened talks about Bennell's relationship with young boys at the club and, specifically, to inform his colleagues that someone had marched over to him at a junior football match to allege that a friend's son had been abused.

 
 

Smith recalls that the talks were held at Rowlinson's house and the chairman was so disturbed by what he heard that he suggested that the vice-chairman, John Bowler, should instruct the then-manager, Dario Gradi, to find a new youth-team coach.

An agreement was eventually reached that Bennell should be kept on but not left alone with boys and he was stopped from arranging overnight stays.

Gradi, according to Smith, made it clear he did not have any problem with Bennell - something he repeated in the 1996 Dispatches documentary when he said there was never "any cause for concern" about boys staying with the youth-team coach.

Bennell was finally arrested in Florida in 1992 after taking another junior team on tour. He was given a four-year sentence for raping a British boy on a football tour of Florida in 1994 and a nine-year sentence for 23 offences against six boys in England in 1998.

Smith added that he believes it would be wrong for Crewe to say they were not warned about, and did not discuss at length, a man the American authorities later described as having "almost an insatiable appetite" for young boys.

"I'm incredibly angry the club continue to refute that they knew anything about suspicions of Bennell's activities," he said.

"This was discussed at the club's top level and, as much as I tried to resolve this, regrettably I couldn't.

"I dread to think how many victims there are, and my heart goes out to them."

Smith, described by Andy Woodward, one of Bennell's victims, as "one of the people at Crewe who can hold their head high," left the club shortly afterwards because of deteriorating health but has been following the Bennell story.

"Whatever I have been through is nothing compared what those poor boys went through," he said.

Woodward had waived his anonymity in the past week to tell The Guardian of years of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of Bennell.

Upon reading his harrowing tale of how abuse had scarred his life, better-known players came forward. David White, a former Manchester City striker and England international, confirmed he had also been abused by Bennell.

In another interview, Paul Stewart, a former Liverpool and Tottenham striker who also played for England, revealed he had been abused by another coach who moved in similar circles - raising fears of a paedophile ring operating in the north-west of England during the period in question.

Clubs including Manchester City and Newcastle United have said they will assist police with inquiries.

The Metropolitan police also said they had received information relating to historic sexual abuse at football clubs in London.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 27, 2016, with the headline ''Crewe knew all about Bennell''. Print Edition | Subscribe