London (AFP) – A former British youth football coach was found guilty on Tuesday of multiple counts of the sexual abuse of boys after a court heard he was a “child molester on an industrial scale”.
Barry Bennell, 64, who coached at Crewe Alexandra and scouted for Manchester City, was found guilty on 36 counts involving 10 child victims between 1979 and 1990.
Some of his accusers wept in court when the verdicts were read out.
Bennell’s trial is part of wider allegations of sexual and physical abuse of boys at football clubs in Britain in the 1970s and 1980s by the very people who were supposed to nurture their budding careers.
The trial at Liverpool Crown Court in northwest England heard that Bennell has served prison sentences for prior sex offences.
During evidence, prosecutors said Bennell groomed not only his victims but their families too.
His accusers told how he was treated with great reverence at Manchester City’s stadium and had a “power hold” over the boys as they dreamed of becoming professional footballers.
He abused the boys at his homes, where he had arcade games and exotic pets including a puma and a monkey, but also on trips away and in his car while on the way to and from training, jurors heard.
Bennell, who appeared in court via videolink due to illness, declined to give evidence in his defence.
– ‘I had a victim’ –
The court was read a transcript of a police interview with Bennell conducted in February 2017.
Bennell denied abusing one boy but admitted that he had stayed at his house and slept in his bed.
He said the youth footballer would have been too young for him to be attracted to when they first met.
He said: “I always tended to aim for the 13-year-olds.”
Bennell also claimed he had been abusing another boy at the time.
He said: “I had a victim; I didn’t need two or three or four.”
He was convicted Tuesday of 27 counts of indecent assault, seven counts of buggery and two of attempted buggery.
Before the trial, Bennell admitted seven counts of indecent assault involving three boys, two of whom were part of the trial.
That left Bennell facing trial on 48 counts. He has been convicted on 36; the jury was ordered to return not guilty verdicts on three, while two others were alternative charges so will not now be dealt with.
The jury are to resume their deliberations on Friday on the seven outstanding counts.
The abuse of young sportspeople by those supposed to be in charge of their welfare was thrown into focus in the United States with the conviction earlier this year of Larry Nassar, the former USA Gymnastics doctor who sexually abused girls and young women for decades.
Nassar faces a lifetime behind bars after being accused by some 265 women — including Olympians and collegiate athletes — of sexually abusing them over more than two decades.