London (AFP) – A former youth player with Premier League giants Manchester City alleged Friday that a football paedophile ring was covered up as England captain Wayne Rooney praised victims for speaking out.
Jason Dunford added to the growing tide of abuse accusations that have rocked English football.
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 publicly reveal the abuse he suffered at Bennell’s hands.
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.
“I believe there was a conspiracy and paedophile ring,” Dunford told BBC television.
Dunford added that Bennell had attempted to touch him in bed while he had been staying at a holiday camp after winning a football competition.
“There were people at those clubs who had a duty to look after boys coming through their system,” Dunford said.
“I think (Jimmy) Savile looks like a choirboy compared to this fella.”
Following his death in 2011, numerous allegations of sexual abuse stretching back six decades tainted the name of Savile, a BBC radio DJ and television presenter.
As a result of allegations involving Savile and other high-profile figures, but none specifically linked to football, a wide-ranging inquiry into sex abuse in Britain was established two years ago.
It is now on to its fourth chairman after a trio of resignations, amid delays and setbacks that have angered many alleged victims.
– ‘Heinous crimes’ –
A television crew working on a documentary on Bennell approached the Football Association in 1997, but the English game’s governing body refused all request for interviews.
“That is appalling,” Greg Clarke, the FA chairman, 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.”
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.”
– Death threats –
Former Manchester City and England forward David White became the fourth ex-player to allege abuse by a youth coach, following previous announcements by 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 that 11 people have now approached Cheshire Police in northwest England with information on football-related abuse and that officers are now contacting them. No arrests have been made.
The Guardian newspaper said it had been approached by a former Newcastle United player, whose identity it 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.