Victims of paedophile Barry Bennell lose high court bid for damages from Manchester City

Barry Bennell

A group of men who sued Manchester City after complaining of abuse by paedophile Barry Bennell have lost their High Court battle.

The eight men, who are now in their 40s and 50s, said Bennell, 68, abused them when they were playing schoolboy football for teams he coached in the North West of England between 1979 and 1985.

They claimed Bennell, who became a coach at Crewe in 1985, was a scout for City during that time and argued the relationship between Bennell and City was “one of employment or one akin to employment”.

However, in his ruling, Mr Justice Johnson said the connection between the abuse and Bennell’s relationship with Manchester City (MCFC) was insufficient to give rise to vicarious liability.

City bosses also denied the claim and said Bennell was a local City scout in the mid-1970s but not between 1979 and 1985.

Manchester City bosses said Bennell was a local City scout in the mid-1970s, but not between 1979 and 1985.

Mr Justice Johnson, who oversaw the trial in the High Court in London, heard the eight men were 'sexually and emotionally abused' by Bennell, and were claiming damages after suffering psychiatric injuries.

Six were also claiming damages for loss of potential football earnings.

But the judge ruled against the men on Monday, 10 January, saying: "The connection between the abuse and Bennell's relationship with MCFC is 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.

"It follows that it has not been shown that MCFC is legally responsible for Bennell's acts of abuse."

He added: "Each claim is therefore dismissed."

Solicitor David McClenaghan, who represented the men and works for law Firm Bolt Burdon Kemp, said there would be an appeal.

"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.

He added: "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."

Barry Bennell gave evidence during the hearing via video link from prison Credit: PA Images

Bennell, who is serving a 34-year sentence after being convicted of sexual offences against boys on five separate occasions, four in the UK and one in the US, also denied being linked to Manchester City during the 1980s.

He told the judge 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, 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”.

In a statement, Manchester City said: “Importantly whilst [Mr Justice Johnson] 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.

"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."

Mr Justice Johnson found City were not legally responsible for the abuse carried out by Bennell. Credit: PA Images

The Offside Trust, an organisation which offers support to survivors of abuse in sport, said in a statement: “This represents yet another step in the search for justice and truth, but sadly for those involved it has not been the outcome they had hoped for.

“The Offside Trust appreciates how difficult it has been for these men to have to go through these issues again and relive the abuse they suffered.

“We are still there to support all survivors of sexual abuse in sport irrespective of where they are on their healing journey. Survivors don’t just recover overnight.

“The process is like a roller coaster with ups and downs at various points in life, so we remain committed to helping those who need it through our survivor support network.”

Mr Justice Johnson also ruled 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."