London (AFP) – Police investigations into the sexual abuse of youngsters within English football widened Friday as England captain Wayne Rooney praised victims for speaking out.
Jason Dunford, once a youth player with Premier League giants Manchester City, added to the growing tide of abuse accusations that have rocked the English game by alleging that a football paedophile ring was covered up.
The allegations mainly centre on Barry Bennell, a youth coach with Manchester City, Stoke City, Crewe Alexandra and several junior teams in northwest England.
Andy Woodward last week became the first player to reveal publicly the abuse Bennell inflicted upon him, triggering a stream of similar claims.
Bennell 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.
He was jailed for a third time in 2015 when he pleaded guilty to abusing a boy at a football camp in Macclesfield, northwest England, in 1980.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) announced Thursday it had launched a telephone helpline for victims of football abuse.
Rooney urged any player who had been affected to call the hotline and no longer “suffer in silence”.
“It’s awful that some of my colleagues have suffered this way whilst playing the sport that I and they love,” the Manchester United forward said.
“Andy (Woodward) has been really brave to come forward and I would encourage anyone who has or is suffering from abuse to call the NSPCC’s new football helpline.
“It’s important that people know that it’s ok to speak out, there is help available and that they don’t need to suffer in silence.”
– Allegations increase –
Police said the establishment of the hotline and the publicity generated by former players sharing their stories in the media had prompted other potential victims to come forward, with Bennell not the only name under investigation.
A growing number of allegations have been reported in four police force areas, against several individuals.
London’s Metropolitan Police said it had received information relating to “non-recent sexual abuse in football clubs” in the city, without naming the teams involved.
Earlier, Dunford told BBC television: “I believe there was a conspiracy and paedophile ring.”
Dunford added Bennell had attempted to touch him in bed while he had been staying at a holiday camp after winning a football competition.