Eight men who sued Manchester City after complaining of being abused by paedophile Barry Bennell more than 30 years ago today lost a High Court fight to hold the club partly liable.
The group, now in their 40s and 50s, said Bennell, 68, abused them when they were playing schoolboy football for teams he coached in north-west England between 1979 and 1985.
They claimed that Bennell, who became a coach at Crewe Alexandra in 1985, was a scout for City at the time of the abuse, and because the relationship between Bennell and City was ‘one of employment or one akin to employment’ the club was liable for the harm they suffered.
All eight claimed damages for psychiatric injuries while six also attempted to sue for loss of football earnings. However, Mr Justice Johnson this morning ruled in City’s favour, with the group now set to appeal.
The eight men, now in their 40s and 50s, said Bennell (pictured) abused them between 1979 and 1985
Mr Justice Johnson said the connection between the abuse and Bennell’s relationship with City was insufficient to give rise to vicarious liability.
‘The relationship gave Bennell the opportunity to commit the abuse, but MCFC had not entrusted the welfare of the claimants to Bennell,’ the judge said.
‘It follows that it has not been shown that MCFC is legally responsible for Bennell’s acts of abuse.’
Mr Justice Johnson also ruled that the claims were brought too late to result in a fair trial.
He said that, while each of the claimants had a ‘good explanation’ for the delay, 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 MCFC’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.’
Bennell, who is in jail after being convicted of a string of child sex offences in recent years, denied being linked to Manchester City during the 1980s.
He told the judge that he had been a ‘local scout’ for City between 1975 and 1979, but not between 1979 and 1985.
Bennell, who gave evidence at the trial via video link from HMP Littlehey, near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, where he is being held, said the ‘reality’ was that he ‘was never’ a City coach and, ‘after 1978/1979’, junior teams he coached had ‘no connection at all’ with City.
But he told the judge that he had ‘always used and exploited’ his previous connections with City for his ‘own benefit’.
The judge said Bennell was a ‘manipulative liar’ and not a credible witness, and that each of the claimants has proved they were abused by him.
He added: ‘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.’
Bennell, who worked as a coach at Crewe Alexandra, is serving a 34-year prison sentence after being convicted of sexual offences against boys on five separate occasions – four in the UK and one in the US
Solicitor David McClenaghan, who represented the men, 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,’ he said.
‘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.’
In the wake of the scandal, which broke in 2016, City set up a no-liability compensation scheme, which has seen payments of around £4million to 64 individuals.
They have also paid for counselling and have apologised in writing and in-person to those who have asked for an apology.
Bennell’s card had City’s name on it and says he was their ‘North West Representative’
One of the men suing City said he had not applied to the scheme because he did not agree with the ‘terms and conditions’.
He added: ‘They didn’t negotiate, they dictated. They said it’s this way or the highway.’
Bennell, who worked as a coach at Crewe Alexandra, is serving a 34-year prison sentence after being convicted of sexual offences against boys on five separate occasions – four in the UK and one in the US.
Following Bennell’s 2018 trial, it was revealed that 86 more complainants had come forward to report abuse by Bennell, meaning he may have more than 100 victims.
In 2018, the then Recorder of Liverpool, Judge Clement Goldstone QC, branded Bennell ‘the devil incarnate’ and told him he ‘may well die in prison’.
Lawyer David McClenaghan, who represented the eight men suing City, said: ‘My clients and I are both shocked and dismayed at the High Court decision’
A Manchester City spokeswoman said in a statement after the ruling: ‘Importantly whilst he 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.
‘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.’