London (AFP) – The chairman of England’s Football Association said Thursday the governing body’s failure to respond after a youth coach’s conviction for sexually abusing young players was “appalling”.
Barry Bennell, who worked for Crewe Alexandra, Manchester City, Stoke City and several junior teams in northwest England, 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.
Yet when approached to comment on Bennell in 1997 by a television documentary crew, the FA refused all requests for interviews.
“That is appalling,” Clarke, who became FA chairman in August, told reporters at Wembley Stadium on Thursday.
“We’ve got 8,500 safeguarding officers out there in the community and I wrote to 30,000 clubs today to raise their awareness.
“These are heinous crimes and they need to be investigated by the police and they will get our support.”
– ‘No hiding place’ –
Thursday also saw British charity the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) announce it had launched a new telephone helpline after four English former footballers said they were abused by their coaches during childhood.
“There must be no hiding place for sexual abuse in our national game and there may be many others who suffered through such horrors as young players, but have never come forward,” said NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless in a statement released on Thursday.
“We welcome the FA’s commitment to helping those in the game get the help and support they need.”
Earlier, former Manchester City and England forward David White became the fourth ex-player to allege abuse by a youth coach, following previous announcements by Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and Paul Stewart.
White, Woodward and Walters all allege they were abused by Bennell.
Former Tottenham Hotspur striker Stewart, capped three times by England, said he was repeatedly sexually assaulted by an unnamed man who threatened to kill his family if he told anyone.
Sky News reported Thursday that 11 people have now approached Cheshire Police in northwest England with information regarding alleged football-related abuse and that officers are now in the process of contacting them. No arrests have been made.
– Newcastle allegations –
Meanwhile The Guardian said it had been approached by a former Newcastle United player, whose identity the newspaper did not reveal, alleging he had been the victim of abuse while at the northeast club.
The ex-player has named George Ormond as the offender, claiming he was sexually abused by a man who has already had a six-year prison sentence for convictions involving boys from the club’s youth system over a 24-year period.
Both Crewe, a club renowned for its youth development system, and Manchester City have opened investigations into Bennell’s links with their clubs.
Crewe’s director of football Dario Gradi, the club’s manager between 1983 and 2007, said he knew nothing about Bennell’s behaviour until around 1994.
“I would like to express sympathy to the victims of Barry Bennell not only at Crewe Alexandra, but at other clubs in the north west,” Gradi said in a statement.
“The first I knew of Barry Bennell’s crimes was when he was arrested in the United States in 1994. I knew nothing of his crimes before this time when he was employed by us.”
A brief statement issued by City to Britain’s Press Association said: “The club is aware of allegations that Barry Bennell had an association with Manchester City in the 1980s.
“As a result the club is currently undertaking a thorough investigation of any past links he might have had with the organisation.”