FOR the victims of predatory paedophile Barry Bennell, the launch of a “survivors’ scheme” by Manchester City is a long-overdue step in their fight for justice.
Finally, decades after the abuse was first reported, the players whose lives were traumatised will be eligible for compensation and an apology from the club which should have protected them during their time in the junior set-up.
Whilst many survivors will find it difficult to forgive the club, receiving an acknowledgment that the abuse did happen may allow some to move forward with their lives. Sadly, the abuse has already destroyed any chance of fulfilling their childhood dream and becoming a professional footballer.
The launch of the Scheme comes on the back of City’s independent inquiry, which is still ongoing after almost two and a half years, into Bennell’s connections with the club, where he had a prominent role in the youth set-up which he used to prey on boys as young as eight.
City had been facing the threat of civil action from a number of former players who were abused by Bennell, following his conviction last year for child abuse dating back to the 1970s.
Many of these victims could be eligible for six-figure payments under the Scheme. Whilst this will be a welcome move for some, it should be made clear that anyone who is not satisfied by the terms of the initiative does still have the option to pursue a civil case through the courts.
This is one of the main reasons why I would recommend that anyone affected by this abuse scandal seeks specialist independent legal advice before coming forward or applying to the Scheme.
In my experience, cases of this nature are often complex and survivors sometimes require professional expertise to guide them through the investigation and application process.
Why has the survivors’ scheme been launched?
Barry Bennell – who was involved in the youth football set-ups at Manchester City and Crewe Alexandra – is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence and has been described by police as one of the worst paedophiles in UK history.
In 2018, he was convicted of 50 specimen charges relating to the abuse of 12 boys, aged from eight to 14, between 1979 and 1991. He is facing up to the possibility of another criminal trial in 2020.
Bennell spent two three-year spells in City’s junior network, starting in his early 20s, between 1976 and 1984. He went on to spend seven years as Crewe Alexandra’s youth-team coach.
The full extent of his crimes is not yet known. At least 86 other people have reported being abused by him in England, but the scale of his behaviour could potentially have affected hundreds of victims who have not yet come forward.
Manchester City have taken the decision to launch this redress scheme to finally provide the boys he raped and molested during his years at City with access to justice, and compensation for the pain and suffering they experienced.
How will the Manchester City abuse scheme work?
The club has not yet released the exact details of the scheme or the total amount of money available to victims. But it is being described by City as a “victim-first” initiative.
It has been set up to make it easier for former players who were planning legal action, or had already initiated proceedings against the club.
Settlements are expected to be made based on a ‘two-tier system’ which will take into account:
- the severity of the offences
- the length of abuse
- its effects on the victim
Abuse survivors should be able to claim compensation for:
- General damages – the pain and suffering caused
- Potential loss of earnings – if careers were affected
- Counselling and therapy fees
- Legal costs
All victims will receive a personal apology from the club and there will be no confidentiality clauses attached to the settlements. This will allow the victims of Bennell and Broome to talk about their experiences, and the way City handled it, if they wish to do so.
Claimants may be asked to provide a statement of truth, evidence which supports that they played for the relevant teams and anything else which can help to corroborate what happened – such as police statements or witness accounts.
For higher-level ‘tier-two’ claims, a report from a consultant psychiatrist may be required, which will be funded by the Premier League club.
It is hoped that some ‘tier-one’ cases could be completed within a seven-week timeframe.
Manchester City’s redress scheme has been put together by Ravi Nayer, a partner from the legal firm Pinsent Masons.
QC Frances Oldham, who previously chaired the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry, has been appointed as an independent adjudicator to oversee how it is handled.
What are the typical features of these schemes?
- There is no time bar, which means that no matter how long ago the abuse took place, the claim will be eligible for compensation. This is a dramatic improvement over other compensation routes, such as litigation or the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority where limitation is very often a major problem.
- Payments are made under a “tariff” system – which means that the more serious the abuse, the more the payment. There may also be payments for loss of earnings or education. The actual amounts do bear some resemblance to awards made by the civil courts.
- There is some provision for the payment of lawyers’ fees. With the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, lawyers’ fees have to come out of the Claimant’s compensation and it can be as much as 25% or more.
- The application goes through “on paper” which means that Claimants don’t have to go through stressful cross examination in court, or endure endless questions about their stories. Generally speaking, if their allegations are credible, they are accepted as true. Where psychiatrists are instructed, then both sides instruct the same one jointly, which means that the Claimant doesn’t have to be examined by two or more sets of experts, a major problem in litigation.
Is it the first scheme of its kind?
The scheme is not the first of its kind to be set up and follows similar ones initiated by the BBC, the NHS and the estate of Jimmy Saville to compensate the survivors of his prolific abuse. There have also been schemes set up in Northern Ireland, Jersey and other jurisdictions.
At Hudgell Solicitors, we have previously represented Shirley Oaks survivors by guiding them successfully through the Lambeth Redress Scheme.
From Manchester City’s point of view, there are two main advantages to launching a compensation Scheme:
- In the long term, it may end up costing them less, particularly as costs in civil litigation can sometimes exceed the damages awarded.
- Once the Scheme closes, there can be no further claims – although civil litigation and making a claim to the CICA do still remains an option.
Who could make a claim?
Manchester City are already aware of around 40 survivors who encountered Bennell during their time in the club’s junior system. But the expectation is that this number could rise substantially.
In Bennell’s case, six feeder teams – Whitehill, Blue Star, Pegasus, Xerxes, Midas, and Adswood Amateurs – have been identified.
Three of Bennell’s other junior sides – White Knowl, Palace and Glossop Juniors – also had clear links to City.
Players from these clubs who subsequently spent time at City may be able to claim if they suffered any form of abuse.
The same will apply to any victims of John Broome, another paedophile who had an association with the club. Broome died in 2010, but he was involved at City as a talent-spotter and junior coach from 1964-71. He was the manager of Whitehill Boys, which was another of City’s feeder teams.
What happens now?
If you or someone you know has been affected by the circumstances outlined above, please don’t hesitate contact me for free and confidential legal advice.
As a specialist abuse solicitor with more than three decades of experience, I understand how difficult and upsetting it can be for victims to pursue legal action.
During my time at Hudgell Solicitors, I have successfully secured justice, compensation and support for the survivors of several high-profile child abuse cases.
Whilst nothing can erase or heal the past, securing a settlement can pay for private counselling which may help to bring about a degree of closure.
Hopefully, for the sake of the promising young players who suffered unimaginable pain, this scheme will finally deliver the justice they so obviously deserve.