Eight men who were sexually abused by a youth soccer coach will go to London’s High Court to claim damages from Manchester City for what they describe as “very serious psychiatric injuries.”
The men have said they were abused by Barry Bennell while he was supposedly working as a scout for City and coaching so-called “feeder teams” which provided the club with players who were too young to be signed on schoolboy terms.
In 2018, Bennell was jailed for 30 years after being convicted of 50 child sexual offenses committed between 1979 and 1991.
The eight men are now in their late 40s or early 50s. They argue that, while Bennell was not officially employed by City, the club is still vicariously liable for the abuse.
Seven of them are claiming damages for “the loss of a chance to pursue a career as a footballer.”
Two of the men are also bringing claims against Crewe Alexandra, the English team where Bennell was employed as a youth coach after leaving City in the mid-1980s.
At a preliminary hearing on Tuesday, the claimants’ lawyer, James Counsell, said that each of the men had “continued throughout their adult lives to suffer from the effects” of the abuse.
“Although the defendants require the claimants to prove that they were abused,” Counsell said, “the abuse is not denied and Bennell was convicted of offenses against most of the claimants and also some of the witnesses to be called.”
Both City and Crewe deny that they are vicariously liable for the abuse committed. They argue that the claims have been brought too late to be heard by the court, and dispute the extent to which the abuse is said to have caused the claimants financial or other losses.
Michael Kent, representing both clubs, said in written submissions that Bennell “never had a formal contract of employment” with City, which raised the “issue as to whether, whatever the circumstances of the particular assaults, that defendant could ever be liable for them.”
Kent argued that, although Bennell was employed by Crewe, there is “a significant dispute” as to whether the assaults “occurred in the course of or were closely connected with his employment.”
All eight claims will be heard together at an eight-week trial which is provisionally listed to start in October 2021.
In March last year, City said it had set up a scheme to compensate victims of child sexual abuse experienced at the club.