Football’s child sexual abuse scandal: Crewe ‘truly sorry’ and ‘regret unawareness’ of Barry Bennell’s offences

Crewe statement: “The club wishes to make it absolutely clear that it sincerely regrets and is disgusted by the terrible crimes committed by Mr Bennell upon many young footballers over a significant number of years”

Crewe Alexandra have apologised to “every survivor of abuse” and expressed their regret at not learning of Barry Bennell’s offences sooner in light of a report published by Clive Sheldon QC on Wednesday.

A four-year review into child sexual abuse allegations within football concluded that the Football Association did not do enough to keep children safe between 1995 and 2000, describing it as “significant institutional failings for which there is no excuse”.

A number of the allegations centre on convicted paedophile Bennell, who was a youth coach at both Crewe and Manchester City during the 1980s and 90s.

Sheldon Report: The key points

  • Four-year review published into child sexual abuse in football between 1970 and 2005
  • Evidence from 62 survivors and 157 further individuals
  • Clive Sheldon QC: “Survivors deserve to be listened to, and their suffering deserves to be properly recognised”
  • Sheldon: “It is important that this terrible history is not repeated”
  • FA “did not act appropriately” following Barry Bennell’s release from prison in 2003
  • Historical failures identified involving Chelsea, Aston Villa, Newcastle, Manchester City, Crewe Alexandra, Stoke, Peterborough, and Southampton
  • By August 2020, Operation Hydrant had identified 240 suspects and 692 survivors
  • Sheldon: “I do not want to give the impression that abuse in football was commonplace. It was not”
  • Report makes 13 recommendations, including publishing safeguarding report every year

The report concluded the FA “did not act appropriately” following Bennell’s release from prison in 2003, and cited the fact no measures were put in place to stop him from returning to football.

While the report found no evidence he had returned to the sport after his release, the FA’s failure to monitor it “allowed children to be put at potential risk”

A statement from Crewe said the club “sincerely regrets and is disgusted by the terrible crimes committed by Mr Bennell”, and reiterated its “deepest sympathy to all those survivors of Mr Bennell”.

Crewe statement in full

“The club acknowledges the findings of Mr Sheldon QC that, notwithstanding the club may still not have got to the truth of any matters at that time, more could have been done to monitor the situation concerning Mr Bennell.

“The club is truly sorry if there were in fact any warning signs that ought to have led the club to do more. Had the club had any suspicion or belief that Mr Bennell was committing acts of abuse, either before, during or after he left the club’s employment, the club would have informed the police immediately.

“The club wishes to make it absolutely clear that it sincerely regrets and is disgusted by the terrible crimes committed by Mr Bennell upon many young footballers over a significant number of years. The despicable abuse committed by Mr Bennell was abhorrent and the club continues to have the deepest sympathy for the survivors of Mr Bennell.

“The club fully understands the additional hurt and trauma to the survivors of Mr Bennell which has been caused by the fact that no one at the club was aware of the offences being committed upon them at the time. The club wholeheartedly regrets and is sorry to every survivor of abuse that it was unaware of Bennell’s offending.

“The report of Clive Sheldon rightly acknowledges that for most of the period of Mr Bennell’s and others’ offending there was little or no guidance on child protection available to those working in sport or society in general. The club acknowledges that awareness of child protection matters and systems of safeguarding in football and in society have now improved considerably and safeguarding has become an integral part of the club’s everyday life.

“The club acknowledges however that improvements to safeguarding can always be made and the club accepts the recommendations made by Clive Sheldon QC to ensure our safeguarding procedures remain as robust as possible.

“The club also acknowledges the contributions made by all individuals to the report of Clive Sheldon QC and reiterates its deepest sympathy to all those survivors of Mr Bennell.”

‘A dark day’ for football – FA

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham, who called the report a “dark day for football”, also confirmed that former Crewe manager and director of football Dario Gradi, who was in charge of the club during Bennell’s time there, has been “effectively banned for life” by the FA.

Gradi was suspended in 2016 by the FA pending an investigation into claims he “smoothed over” a complaint of sexual assault against Chelsea scout Eddie Heath when he was assistant manager at the London club in the 1970s.

The Sheldon report said that Gradi “should have done more” to help investigate rumours about Bennell, but there was “no evidence” that he had “acted inappropriately”.

However, Bullingham confirmed that Gradi’s suspension had not been lifted since first being put in place in 2016, and will not be in the future.

“Dario Gradi is banned from football,” Bullingham said. “Now that, unfortunately, I can’t go into further details on. There are a number of reasons why someone might be banned from football, but just to say that he is and will remain so.

“Effectively he’s banned for life”

Historical failures were also identified at a number of other clubs, including Chelsea, Aston Villa, Newcastle, Stoke, Peterborough, and Southampton.

The report highlighted numerous examples where clubs linked to abusers had heard rumours or received complaints and failed to handle them properly.

In all, the review said data passed to it by Operation Hydrant in August 2020 had identified 240 suspects and 692 survivors.

There were also apologies issued in statements from the Premier League and English Football League, while Manchester City released the findings of a report of their own.

City issued a statement to “apologise publicly and unreservedly” to those who were abused by three individuals named in their own report, commissioned in 2016 and carried out by Jane Mulcahy QC.

The report found that the club’s response to allegations concerning Bennell, John Broome and Bill Toner was “wholly inadequate” in its failure to investigate fully or inform the police.

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