London (AFP) – The chairman of third tier English club Crewe Alexandra stood down on Thursday just over a week after the publication of an independent review of historical sexual abuse in football.
The review, commissioned by England’s governing Football Association, said Crewe had not done enough to protect boys from serial abuser Barry Bennell, a youth football coach.
Crewe chairman John Bowler said in a statement that as the last person remaining at the club from the time when Bennell committed his crimes he felt he had to stay to see the report published.
“As the only person left with an association to that era, I truly believe it was important for me to see it through to conclusion,” he said.
“I am satisfied with the findings of the review that found that the club did not have any knowledge of Barry Bennell’s heinous crimes.”
However, lawyer Clive Sheldon concluded in his report it was likely three Crewe directors discussed Bennell over concerns which hinted at his sexual interest in children.
It also found there is no evidence that advice from a senior police officer to keep a “watching brief” on Bennell was heeded.
The club were also criticised for not checking in with boys who were staying overnight at Bennell’s house.
“Had such steps been taken, this might have led to boys making disclosures to the club,” Sheldon wrote in his report.
Bowler, who became Crewe chairman in 1987 after joining the board in 1980, apologised for the harm the youngsters had suffered describing Bennell as an “evil predator.”
“I will always be deeply appalled and sorry that those young players and their families suffered at the hands of this evil predator.
“I personally and sincerely apologise to them all for their suffering. Crewe Alexandra is a community-based club with good people.”
Bowler apologised to the fans for the club’s name “being tarnished” but said hopefully with new leadership in place it would regain their trust.
“I have worked on the formation of a new board and know they will do all they can to move the club forward,” he said.
“Our academy remains one of the finest in the country and we have every confidence in our safeguarding policies and procedures.
“There is always room for improvement and as a club will welcome the future recommendations of the Sheldon Review.”
The review by Sheldon was commissioned by the FA in 2016, shortly after former player Andy Woodward spoke out about how he had been abused by Bennell at Crewe.
Bennell, who had been convicted in the United States in 1995, was sentenced to 31 years in prison at Liverpool Crown Court in 2018 for 50 counts of child abuse against 12 boys aged eight to 15 between 1979 and 1991.
Judge Clement Goldstone described Bennell as “the devil incarnate” and he was sentenced to a further four years last year.
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