Trial begins as eight men sue Manchester City over Barry Bennell links

Barry Bennell
Barry Bennell

City deny that Bennell was an employee or in a relationship 'akin to employment'

Published

A High Court judge will oversee a trial as eight men who say they were abused by a former football coach jailed after being convicted of sex offences against boys sue Manchester City for damages.

The men, now in their 40s and 50s, say Barry Bennell abused them when they were playing youth football in the north-west of England more than 30 years ago.

They say Bennell, now 67, was a scout for Manchester City at the time and want damages from the club which won last year’s Premier League.

City deny that Bennell was an employee or in a relationship “akin to employment” at “the material times” and deny being vicariously liable.

Bennell, who also 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.

Mr Justice Johnson is due to begin overseeing the trial at the High Court in London on Monday, which lawyers expect will last for several weeks.

Bennell is expected to give evidence by videolink at some stage during the proceedings.

Detail of the case emerged at preliminary hearings earlier this year.

Judges have heard that the eight men were sexually and emotionally abused by Bennell between 1979 and 1985 and are claiming damages after suffering psychiatric injuries.

A barrister leading the men’s legal team said some are also claiming damages for the loss of a chance to pursue a career as a footballer.

Judges have also been told that a question at the centre of the case is whether Manchester City are “vicariously liable” for Bennell’s actions.

The men say Bennell worked as a scout for Manchester City and ran various youth feeder teams, mainly under-14 teams, on the club’s behalf and for its benefit.

They named teams known as White Knowl, New Mills Juniors, North West Derbyshire Select, Glossop Juniors, Adswood Amateurs, Pegasus and Midas.

The men argue that the relationship between Bennell and the Premier League club was “one of employment or one akin to employment”.

Manchester City deny this.

Judges have ruled that the men making claims cannot be identified in media reports of the case.

A lawyer representing the eight said before the start of the trial he was “seeking justice”.

“We are seeking justice for eight men abused by convicted paedophile Barry Bennell,” said David McClenaghan, who is based at law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp

“We maintain our view that all survivors of abuse at the hands of football scouts and coaches should be entitled to recompense from the clubs who relied so heavily on men like Bennell to feed players directly into their junior teams.”

A spokeswoman for Manchester City said ahead of the trial that the club had responded to allegations of “non-recent child abuse” with a “survivor-first” approach.

“Since November 2016, Manchester City has responded to the allegations of non-recent child abuse with a ‘survivor-first’ approach and had launched a compensation scheme,” she said.

“In March 2019, in conjunction with an exhaustive QC-led review, the club launched a compensation scheme for survivors designed as an alternative route to civil action, which can often be lengthy, traumatic and costly.

“It is the first and only compensation scheme in football.

“The scheme offered damages payments equivalent to those awarded at court and additionally provided costs for legal and counselling support.

“Importantly, the scheme did not require confidentiality from any of the claimants.

“As each claim concludes, Manchester City has made and continues to make both written and in-person apologies to the survivors, depending on their preference.

“Scores of survivors via multiple law firms have successfully utilised the scheme.

“It is of course open to survivors and the law firms who represent them to not use the scheme and instead issue court proceedings, but if that happens, the matter is taken out of the club’s control and passes instead to the relevant insurers under historic Football League arrangements.

“The cases being heard at the High Court are those of survivors who are being advised by a single law firm which did not recommend the scheme to them and instead is representing them in a civil action.

“The club is named in the case as a formality only and does not control or make decisions within the litigation, such as who to call as witnesses.

“We understand that, in such litigation, insurers’ solicitors are expected to seek evidence from available individuals, including the abuser if they are still alive, and can be criticised if they do not.

“Again, though, this is not a decision that is taken by Manchester City.”