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Barry Bennell - "star maker", and "child molester on an industrial scale"

Rose Atwood describes attending the court hearing at which Barry Bennell was found guilty of 50 charges relating to the abuse of young footballers, and with Alison Millar, she describes how paedophiles such as Bennell can carry on abusing even when flags go up surrounding their behaviour

Alison Millar (pictured) is partner and head of the abuse team at Leigh Day. Rose joined Leigh Day in September 2017 as a paralegal she works with Alison and the rest of the Leigh Day abuse team on legal action on behalf of survivors brought against individuals including teachers, carers and sports coaches as well as the institutions in which the abuse took place.
After a five week trial, and five days of jury deliberation, Barry Bennell, former youth coach at Manchester City and Crewe Alexandra, has now been convicted on a total of 50 charges relating to sexual abuse of 12 of his former players. He is due to be sentenced on Monday.

The abuse team at Leigh Day is currently representing a number of former youth football players who suffered abuse by Bennell, and a member of our abuse team attended key parts of the trial.

Known as the "star maker" during his time coaching the Manchester City youth team, Bennell used his position as a coach of various youth football teams to groom and then sexually abuse potentially over 100 former youth players, with 86 having recently come forward to say that they were victims.

During the trial, Bennell was present via video link due to ill health. Walking into the court on the first day of the trial, his face, enlarged on two screens, framed the judges' bench.

During the trial, the Prosecution would compare Bennell to Darth Vader and the Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and would describe him as a "child molester on an industrial scale".

The Guardian reports that a survivor described him as a "Pied-Piper figure" with a "hold over everybody". Even Bennell has described himself as a "monster".

What was striking, then, about seeing Bennell looming large on these screens above the court room during the majority of the trial, was his ordinary appearance. It is common to imagine paedophiles as looking as monstrous as their actions.

However, in our considerable experience of litigating cases of non-recent abuse, Bennell's nondescript demeanour is more typical of that of a prolific paedophile.

One mother of a survivor recalls in the Guardian that Bennell during the period when he was most prolific was "gorgeous - bronzed, handsome, with bouncing curly hair". A survivor recalls that "all the mums fancied him, all the sisters fancied him, all the dads wanted to be around him".

Paedophiles who are able to operate for as long as Bennell can often be charming, skilled in ingratiating themselves with the families of those they abuse. Bennell even related at interview, a fact which often come up during the trial, the way in which he made a special point of ingratiating himself with the boys' mothers, even going so far as to employ two of them in order to allay any suspicions that they might have.

Bennell was known at Manchester City as the "star maker", with a well-respected ability to spot and nurture young football talent. It is also not uncommon for abusers like Bennell to be considered very good at their jobs.

The extra-curricular activities and the extra hours he was willing to put in with the boys that ostensibly demonstrated his dedication were all opportunities for him to abuse, and from the outside all would have appeared like the activities of an extremely dedicated coach.

As we have set out, organisations should bear in mind that prolific abusers such as Bennell are often extremely psychologically manipulative. They often make a point of ingratiating themselves with the children's families.

They may not fit the stereotypes of being a "loner" or an "oddball". Witnesses at trial also recalled Bennell as being a "touchy feely" person. Many boys recalled Bennell playing "follow me", a tickling "game" which would build up into inappropriate physical contact.

When giving his statements to the police, Bennell admitted to using this as a grooming behaviour to identify potential victims - those who tolerant of the game in his view were likely to be susceptible to further abuse.

Organisations should bear in mind that the nature of coaching may make it a particularly attractive area for such individuals. There can be more opportunity for physical contact, which can be used as a build-up to more serious abuse, as in Bennell's case.

Trips away to train or play, not necessarily with a chaperone, are also more common. Bennell often used these trips as opportunities to abuse and manipulate boys.

Survivors recalled Bennell taking them to 'haunted' houses on such trips, and deliberately scaring boys so he could suggest that they share his bed.

Sporting organisations also need to be willing to properly investigate any complaint that may be made, no matter the reputation or success of the coach in question, safeguarding the child should always be the first priority.

One survivor recalls Bennell telling them "no one would believe you. I have had loads of players who are now professionals, who would believe you?" The hold that such individuals can have over children should not be over-estimated, and the adults around them should be themselves aware that initial attempts by children to disclose such abuse are commonly overlooked.

To ensure that this does not happen, adults should make themselves aware of basic safeguarding techniques, and should also be willing to act on any suspicions they may have. It is to be hoped that this well-publicised case will lead to an increased awareness in sport that it is an environment in which sexual abuse can occur, and that sports organisations will take the opportunity to reflect on their own role in events and put in place appropriate safeguarding measures.

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