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Man suing Manchester City in Bennell case was excellent footballer, court told

·4 min read

One of eight men suing Manchester City after complaining of being abused by paedophile former scout Barry Bennell had been an excellent schoolboy player who attracted the interest of Manchester United, Aston Villa and Sheffield United, a High Court judge has heard.

Ian Ackley, now 53, had also played for non-league Cheadle Town and Rochdale, as a youngster, but had failed to fulfil the promise he had shown and walked away from football, Mr Justice Johnson heard.

He told the judge that Bennell’s abuse had made him “emotionally stunted”.

Mr Justice Johnson had ruled that none of the men making claims against City could be identified in media reports of the case.

But he relaxed that order on Wednesday, and said Mr Ackley, who was born in Glossop, Derbyshire, could be named, after a challenge by journalists.

City dispute claims made by the men.

Barry Bennell damages
A Manchester City branded corner flag (Mike Egerton/PA)

Mr Justice Johnson has heard that Bennell, who worked as a coach at Crewe Alexandra, is serving a 34-year prison sentence after being convicted of sexual offences against boys on five separate occasions, four in the UK and one in the US, and is being held at Littlehey prison near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire.

He has been told the eight men were sexually and emotionally abused by Bennell between 1979 and 1985 and are claiming damages after suffering psychiatric injuries.

Six are also claiming damages for loss of potential football earnings, Mr Ackley is claiming nearly £230,000.

The eight men, now in their 40s and 50s, say Bennell abused them when they were playing youth football in the north-west of England more than 30 years ago.

They say Bennell was operating as a Manchester City scout at the time.

City bosses disagree.

Lawyers representing the club say Bennell was a “local scout” in the mid-1970s but did not have a role in the 1980s.

City deny that Bennell was an employee or in a relationship “akin to employment” at “the material times” and deny being vicariously liable.

The judge has heard how the club had set up a compensation scheme more than four years ago.

Mr Ackley told the judge that he had not taken part in the compensation scheme.

“I didn’t agree with the terms and conditions they had,” he said.

“They didn’t negotiate, they dictated.

“They said to us, ‘it’s this way or the highway’.”

He added: “They have done nothing in my case to resolve things.”

Mr Ackley recalled first meeting Bennell in the early 1980s when a schoolboy.

Bennell had approached Mr Ackley’s father and carried a blue card describing himself as Manchester City’s “north-west representative”, Mr Ackley said.

Mr Ackley said he subsequently trained at Manchester City’s training ground.

“Bennell would walk through the doors, no problem,” Mr Justice Johnson heard.

“Everybody knew him.”

Mr Ackley added: “He did have a role, quite clearly, at Manchester City.”

He went on: “He ran, coached and scouted for them, their teams and their players.”

A barrister representing the eight men told the judge that, as boys, all had been “singled out for their excellence” and were making their way, with “distinction”, towards a future as a professional footballer

James Counsell QC said Mr Ackley had played for a junior side called White Knowl, which Bennell coached.

He said Mr Ackley had been abused for three years.

Mr Counsell said Mr Ackley had attracted the interest of Sheffield United “as early as the age of eight” and had “an offer” from Aston Villa.

He said Mr Ackley had played for Cheadle Town, for Manchester United’s youth team, and, briefly, been at Rochdale, before walking “out and away” from football.

Mr Counsell told the judge: “The three years of abuse from Bennell took a huge toll on him psychologically and, not surprisingly, he became disenchanted with football.”

Journalists argued that Mr Ackley had previously discussed the abuse he suffered at the hands of Bennell in a television programme and had been named.

They argued that it was therefore illogical to bar reporters from naming him in reports of the case – and said it was difficult to report evidence without giving clues to Mr Ackley’s identity.

Mr Justice Johnson said reporters could name Mr Ackley and report the contents of evidence he had given in court on Tuesday.

Mr Ackley had not discussed any detail of the abuse he suffered when answering barristers’ questions.

Mr Ackley told the judge that Bennell took him to City’s training ground, at Platt Lane, on a “regular basis” for training with the “junior set-up” in the early 1980s.

He said White Knowl trophies were displayed in the office of Ken Barnes, then chief scout of Manchester City, at City’s Maine Road stadium.

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