Bennell victims to appeal after losing High Court case against Manchester City

·5-min read

Eight men who were abused by paedophile Barry Bennell more than 30 years ago have said they will appeal after losing a High Court case against Manchester City.

The eight men, now in their 40s and 50s, were abused by Bennell when they were playing schoolboy football for teams he coached in north-west England between 1979 and 1985.

They said Bennell, now 68, was a scout for City during that time and argued that the club was “vicariously liable” for the abuse, because its relationship with Bennell at the time was “one of employment or one akin to employment”.

But a judge dismissed their claims in a ruling on Monday, finding that the legal action was brought “too late” and that the connection between the abuse and Bennell’s relationship with City was “insufficient to give rise to vicarious liability”.

Barry Bennell Damages
A judge dismissed the claims against Manchester City (Nick Potts/PA)

A lawyer representing the men said in a statement after the ruling that they would mount an appeal.

David McClenaghan, a solicitor at law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp, said: “My clients and I are both shocked and dismayed at the High Court decision handed down today, which declined to award them substantial damages in their claims against Manchester City Football Club for abuse suffered at the hands of Barry Bennell.

“Despite the judge accepting that there was a connection between Bennell and Man City and that he was scouting for them, coaching their feeder teams and helping to organise trial games for them, the club has escaped liability on a technicality.

“We do not accept the decision as being correct and will be appealing the decision in the higher courts, where we are confident we will secure the correct and just result.”

A City spokeswoman said: “Importantly whilst (the judge) found that the club was not vicariously liable for the actions of Barry Bennell, it was accepted by all parties that the abuse did take place.

“We understand that the legal team for the claimants intend to appeal the decision and, in respecting their right to do so, it would therefore not be appropriate to comment further on these specific proceedings, which remain ongoing.”

She added: “Manchester City has both personally and publicly apologised without reservation for the unimaginable suffering that each survivor experienced as the result of abuse they suffered.

“The club reiterates this apology today to the survivors and to the multiple family members and friends affected by the traumatic events, the ramifications of which are felt by so many to the present day and will continue to be felt for a long time to come.”

During a trial in London that lasted more than six weeks, Mr Justice Johnson heard how Bennell, who used to live near Buxton, Derbyshire, had abused schoolboy footballers after inviting them to stay at his home.

Bennell, who 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 – denied abusing some of the claimants when he gave evidence over a video-link from HMP Littlehey, near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

But the judge said in his ruling that Bennell was a “manipulative liar” and not a credible witness, and that each of the claimants had proved they were abused by him.

He said: “All of them helped to ensure that Bennell was brought to justice.

“This means that others have been protected from the abuse that he may otherwise have continued to commit.

“The claimants have shone a light on what was going on in youth football.

“They have thereby helped to ensure that future generations of children are better protected, not just from Bennell, but also from others whose grooming and abuse can be prevented by better child protection measures.”

The judge said their evidence was “vivid, compelling, distressing, and credible” and that each of them was “now a remarkable man”.

But he concluded that, while each of the men had a “good explanation” for the delay in bringing their claims, the evidence was less clear than it would have been had the claims been brought in time – in part because a key witness died in 2010.

The judge said: “It is not fair, after all these years, to reach a binding determination on (Manchester City’s) responsibility for the abuse based on the partial evidence that is still available.

“I therefore dismiss each claim on the ground that it is out of time.”

He also said that, while there was a “connection” between Bennell and City at the time of the abuse, which the club had disputed, the relationship was one of a volunteer and not “akin to employment”.

The judge added: “The connection between the abuse and Bennell’s relationship with (City) is insufficient to give rise to vicarious liability.”

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

He said that, if he had ruled in favour of the eight claimants, they would have recovered damages awards of between £46,000 and £560,000.

All eight had claimed damages for psychiatric injuries, while six of them also claimed for loss of potential football earnings.

Mr Justice Johnson said it was “impossible to know” whether they would have achieved their dreams of becoming professional footballers, adding: “Along with so much else, Bennell has robbed them, and their families, of finding out.”
A spokesman for the Offside Trust, an organisation set up by survivors of child sexual abuse in sport, said: “This represents yet another step in the search for justice and truth, but sadly for those involved it has not been the outcome they had hoped for.

“The Offside Trust appreciates how difficult it has been for these men to have to go through these issues again and relive the abuse they suffered.

“We are still there to support all survivors of sexual abuse in sport irrespective of where they are on their healing journey.”

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