Manchester City cannot be held responsible for Barry Bennell abuse, court rules

Manchester City cannot be held responsible for the abuse suffered by eight men at the hands of the paedophile Barry Bennell more than 30 years ago, a high court judge has ruled.

The claimants, now in their 40s and 50s, say Bennell, now 68, abused them when they were playing schoolboy football for teams he coached in north-west England between 1979 and 1985.

Bennell was a scout for City during that time and the eight men argued the relationship between Bennell and City was “one of employment or one akin to employment”. The men had argued that City were vicariously liable for the abuse.

But Mr Justice Johnson said: “The connection between the abuse and Bennell’s relationship with MCFC [Manchester City football club] 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 also dismissed the claims on the ground that they were out of time, saying although there was a “good explanation” for the delay in the claims, they were brought too late for there to be a fair trial.

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

Bennell, who is serving a 34-year jail term after being convicted on five separate occasions of child sexual abuse offences against 22 boys, also denied being linked to Manchester City during the 1980s but told the judge he had “always used and exploited” his previous connections with City for his “own benefit”.

David McClenaghan, partner at Bolt Burdon Kemp solicitors, who represented the eight men, said they were “shocked and dismayed” at the decision and would be appealing against it.

He said: “Despite the judge accepting that there was a connection between Bennell and Man City and that he was scouting for them, coaching their feeder teams and helping to organise trial games for them, the club has escaped liability on a technicality.

“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.”

The eight men claimed damages for psychiatric injuries, with six of them also claiming damages for loss of potential football earnings.

Bennell, who used to live near Buxton, Derbyshire, had abused schoolboy footballers after inviting them to stay at his home. Giving evidence in the civil trial, he said that several of his convictions related to six of the men making claims against City but he denied abusing four of them.

Prior to the start of the trial, City said it had launched a compensation scheme in 2019 offering victims of “non-recent child abuse” payments “equivalent to those awarded at court”.

It said in the current case the survivors had chosen not to use the scheme and issue court proceedings, which meant the matter was taken out of the club’s hands and passed to the relevant insurers. A spokeswoman said the decision to call Bennell to give evidence was not taken by City.

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