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#themtoo: the case of trafficking in minors and sexual abuse that far exceeds the Maxwell / Epstein

Editorial Staff

You have almost certainly not have heard of this case, in which judgment was handed down on 10th January while the world's media was in a sordid frenzy over a relatively minor case in New York.

It needs a hashtag so let's use #themtoo.

A case in the English High Court follows on from the conviction of a man for the persistent sexual abuse of boys over whom he had influence for a period of years.

While the world's press fascinated itself, and therefore the world, with a handful of late teenage girls and the rich and famous, this case slipped beneath the radar.

You can read the full story here: https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-co...

In a 134 page judgment, Mr Justice Johnson delivered a sensitive and carefully reasoned judgment published 10 January 2022. In the case, 8 men in their fifties had sued Manchester City Football Club Limited claiming that they had been abused by one Barry Bennell and that the company is vicariously liable for his conduct and therefore liable in damages.

To skip to the end, the Judge found a) that the boys were abused b) that the measure of damages could be calculated ( and he did so calculate) and c) that the relationship between the company and Bennell was not such that it created vicarious liability. But the Judge clearly expected that his decision would be appealed because in his determination he said "in case I am wrong" and he went on to make the calculations. On the law, he is not wrong but the Court of Appeal, if the case progresses, might expand the law of vicarious liability. I hope it doesn't because the long tail effects, if it did, are immense.

The hearing lasted almost three months, albeit not continuously. The plaintiffs mostly were referred to only by their initials. Two had, at various times in the past, waived their right to anonymity but the Judge decided that, both for the sake of consistency and because he was determined to avoid any embarrassment where possible, he would use their initials only, too.

The facts are simple: over a period of years, an unknown number of boys were abused by a man who said he could get them into professional football. It is suspected that the eight were merely those brave enough to come forward. Most of the boys were 13 or 14 at the time of the offences, some were younger. They are now, mostly 53 or 54 years old. Bennell is now 68 and was, therefore, in his early to mid 20s when he approached young boys on soccer fields across North West England and the northern Midlands telling them that he could get them into professional soccer. As it turned out, that was true. Or would have been had he not abused them.

Each of the claimants was a remarkable boy. Each is now a remarkable man. As a boy, each claimant was among the very best footballers of his year group in northwest England. Forty years later, their skill and character as young footballers are vividly remembered by their parents, teachers, team-mates, and others who gave evidence. Contemporaneous team and match photographs, match programmes, newspaper cuttings and letters from well-known clubs such as Arsenal (and, in one instance, from Bobby Robson, the then England manager) speak powerfully to their talent and potential. Each claimant may well have gone on to become a successful professional footballer. It is now impossible to know whether they would have achieved their dreams. Along with so much else, Bennell has robbed them, and their families, of finding out.

From the judgment

Unlike the Maxwell / Epstein case in which at least some details of at the sexual conduct concerned have been paraded before the public, in this case the details are subject to an order that neither they, nor the identifies of the six plaintiffs who remain anonymous, may be published. We do not need to imagine much: the surrounding conduct makes the scale and the nature of the abuse clear. The evidence from Bennel's criminal trial was not made public, either.

Bennell has been convicted, on 5 separate occasions, of a total of 90 sexual offences against young boys. He has been sentenced to a total of 49 consecutive years in prison. He is currently serving a term of 34 years’ imprisonment.

- from the judgment

The value of the story lies not in the salacious details but in two things: the first is the circumstances in which Bennell was able to surround himself with his victims and to create an atmosphere of both fear and trust and, secondly, the appalling long-term effects on the victims.

There is, in fact, another group of victims who it has to be remembered have suffered half-a-lifetime of guilt and worry and who will, probably, never forgive themselves for something that was not their fault: the parents of the victims thought they were helping their children achieve impossible dreams; they had no idea they were handing them over to a predatory, sadistic, serial abuser.

The Persuader

This civil case came about because, it was admitted, Bennell "held himself out as a representative of Manchester City Football Club." He also held himself out as representing other clubs.

Bennell was a freelance scout who also ran multiple football teams that played in junior leagues. The boys he scouted played for those teams which were, to some extent, feeder teams for established football clubs (the term "club" is usually a misnomer, these days). He could "sign up" children to these teams before the age that they could legally sign for junior contracts with a league club or even, under Football Association Rules, attend regular training or coaching. His pitch - which was true - was that if the boys worked hard and played well, he would get them seen by the teams and introduce them for a possible contract.

But the unknown price for this was that they boys were often in a form of camp environment, staying away from home for one or two nights. Often these stays would be at Bennell's home where, it was shown in evidence, he would choose a boy to accompany him to bed where the abuse would take place. No evidence was led that any of the boys had any homosexual tendencies.

By a combination of shame and guilt and continued promises of great things, Bennell was able to manipulate his victims into a course of conduct that lasted, in some cases, more than a year. And the law and rules designed to protect young boys in relation to their careers acted to deliver them to Bennell.

Long Term Effects

As men, they have each dealt with the destructive mental legacy of Bennell’s depravity. They have shown immense courage. TVZ went on national television to reveal what had been going on. He waived his right to anonymity. He did so because he did not think he would otherwise be believed and Bennell might then escape justice. He may well have been right about that. He was determined to do everything he could to encourage others to come forward and to ensure that Bennell was prosecuted for the offences he committed. Other claimants also gave public accounts of what Bennell had done. It is because of their selfless bravery that Bennell is now in prison. If it were not for their courage, other boys may have been at risk of suffering in the same way. They have saved those boys from that fate. It has come at great personal cost. The evidence demonstrates that the process of disclosing the abuse has, in every case, caused the claimant great anguish and mental suffering. Many or all of the claimants now bitterly regret disclosing the abuse, because of the impact that has had on them.

- from the judgment

The stories are heartbreaking. Boys of the greatest promise, some academically strong as well as athletically gifted, all "good boys" who had, other things being equal, great futures in one of several fields of endeavour before them, are all damaged, broken individuals. Reading between the lines, some fell into delinquency. For sure, some fell victim to drink and a wide range of illegal drugs. It is to their credit and that of their families that none of them fell into serious crime for they became the kind of young people that criminals recruit.

One speaks of distress if he has to drive past Bennell's former home, another of distress if he smells what he recognises as Bennell's fragrance, another of distress from a wide range of triggers. Almost all have had problems maintaining personal relationships and jobs. There were varying degrees of psycho-medical opinion as to many aspects of the initial and later effects but both medical experts had common opinions that the victims continue to suffer long-term damage as a result of the abuse more than 40 years ago.

This puts much into context.

Who should they have trusted? How could they know? Was trust buried beneath the persuasive conduct of Bennell and the promises he made - and showed signs of keeping?

It's a truly horrible case and the full judgment is well worth the read.

The biggest lesson to learn?

It's hard to say, but it is probably this: no matter what the incentive, always make sure your kids come home at night.

From the judgment:

Bennell was disruptive and caused trouble in the league in which his team played. For example, he poached players from other teams and put boys into his team without properly registering them. Possibly for that reason, his team would sometimes be managed, nominally at least, by someone other than Bennell (and, on occasion, the father of one of the boys in the team), and that person was the public face of the team so far as concerned the leagues in which they played. In reality, though, Bennell ran the teams, coached the boys, selected who would play in which game, and provided the boys with football kit for each game.

The teams Bennell coached were very successful. At least some of them were virtually unbeatable. This was largely because Bennell managed to persuade the most talented boys in the area to play for his team. They often played an age group up (so, for example, an U12 team would play in a U13 league). Even then, they would regularly win the league. The teams also took part in other tournaments, and went on tours, including to the Isle of Wight, Ayrshire, Wales, and Spain. Bennell also ran soccer coaching camps over the summer at Butlins in Pwllheli.

Bennell was regarded by boys and their parents as an effective but demanding coach. He had the car, clothes, charisma, and confidence that boys associated with a successful professional footballer. He was seen as a route to a professional football career, particularly with MCFC. Boys were anxious to play for his team, and to please him. Because of the way in which boys would flock to him, he has been described as a “Pied Piper”. It is now known that he was a prolific predatory paedophile.

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