Eight men lose High Court battle against Manchester City over alleged Barry Bennell abuse

10 January 2022, 10:23 | Updated: 10 January 2022, 11:30

The men claimed Barry Bennell abused them while coaching their football teams.
The men claimed Barry Bennell abused them while coaching their football teams. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Eight men who sued Manchester City after claiming to have been abused by paedophile Barry Bennell more than 30 years ago have lost a High Court battle.

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The men claimed that Bennell abused them when they were playing schoolboy football for teams he coached in north-west England between 1979 and 1985.

They said he was a scout for Manchester City during that time, argued that the relationship between Bennell and City was "one of employment or one akin to employment", and claimed City were vicariously liable for the harm they suffered, which club bosses denied.

They were claiming damages for psychiatric injuries, with six also claiming damages for loss of potential football earnings.

However, a judge ruled against the men on Monday after the trial came to an end in December.

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Mr Justice Johnson said: "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."

The judge also said the claims were brought too late to result in a fair trial.

He suggested 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 sooner, particularly because a key witness died in 2010.

Mr Justice Johnson explained: "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."

ennell gave evidence at the trial via video link from HMP Littlehey.
ennell gave evidence at the trial via video link from HMP Littlehey. Picture: Alamy

Bennell, who is in jail after being convicted of a string of child sex offences, denied being linked to Manchester City during the 1980s.

He gave evidence at the trial via video link from HMP Littlehey, telling the judge that he had been a "local scout" for City between 1975 and 1979, but not between 1979 and 1985.

He 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.

However, he added that he had "always used and exploited" his previous connections with City for his "own benefit".

David McClenaghan, the lawyer representing the men, said: "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 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.

"My clients are incredibly disappointed by the behaviour of Manchester City Football Club."

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A Manchester City spokeswoman said in a statement after the ruling: "Importantly whilst he 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.

"Manchester City has both personally and publicly apologised without reservation for the unimaginable suffering that each survivor experienced as the result of abuse they suffered.

"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."