Paedophile former football coach Barry Bennell is set to give evidence to a High Court trial on behalf of Manchester City after the Premier League champions were sued by eight men who say they were abused when boys.
Lawyers have told a judge overseeing the trial at the High Court in London that Bennell, who is now 67 and serving a jail term, is due to give evidence via video-link from prison in December.
A barrister leading the men’s legal team told Mr Justice Johnson on Monday that Manchester City had made a “tactical” decision to call Bennell as a witness.
Lawyers representing Manchester City said they had been left with “no option”.
The eight men, now in their 40s and 50s, have made damages claims against Manchester City and say Bennell abused them when they were playing football in the north-west of England more than 30 years ago.
They say Bennell was operating as a Manchester City scout and want damages from the club.
Mr Justice Johnson has heard 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.
Manchester City dispute claims made by the men.
Mr Justice Johnson says the men making claims cannot be identified in media reports of the case.
The judge began overseeing a trial at the High Court in London on Monday.
Lawyers say the trial is due to end in mid-December.
Mr Justice Johnson was told that Bennell, who worked as a coach at Crewe Alexandra, was 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.
James Counsell QC, who is leading the men’s legal team, told the judge that Bennell was due to give evidence on December 6.
He said Manchester City had taken a “tactical decision” to call Bennell and that the club now based its defence “full square” on information received from one of Britain’s “most notorious paedophiles”.
“In this case, of course, the perpetrator of the abuse, Bennell, is still alive and, apparently, willing and able to give evidence,” said Mr Counsell in a written argument.
“The abuse is no longer an issue because it has been belatedly conceded, although what Bennell is now prepared to admit and how damaged his credibility will be by the answers he gives when he is asked remains to be seen.”
Mr Counsell questioned how Bennell would “assist” Manchester City in “making out its case” and added: “If/when his evidence is rejected, it will not be because of the passage of time but because he is a wholly unreliable liar.”
Michael Kent QC, who is leading Manchester City’s legal team, suggested calling Bennell as a witness was the only option.
He said Manchester City’s former chief scout Ken Barnes had died and former club secretary Bernard Halford was also dead.
Mr Kent told the judge in a written argument: “As a result, the defendant has been left with no option other than to adduce evidence from Bennell himself as the only other person still alive who can speak to these matters with actual knowledge of the situation, as distinct from the claimants’ ‘understanding’ of the position, which on analysis is based on little more than rumour or assumption or, worse still, on what Bennell told them at the time when seeking to manipulate them to his advantage.”
He said Manchester City disputed the case put by the eight men.
“The defendant’s case in summary is that Bennell was not even a ‘local scout’ for Manchester City FC from about 1978/79,” Mr Kent told the judge in a written argument.
“He also decided to set up and run his own junior football teams in Derbyshire from around 1981 until 1985, but they had no connection whatsoever with Manchester City FC.
“However, in view of his previous contacts with the club he was able to and did for his own benefit play up his connections and imply that anyone playing for one of his junior teams had a good chance of being offered a trial at the club if they performed well.”
Mr Kent went on: “The defendant’s case therefore is straightforward: Bennell was neither an employee nor acting in a role akin to employment at any time (whether during the period with which these claims are concerned or before).”
The judge watched a video, which lawyers representing the men said showed Bennell coaching two youth teams, both wearing Manchester City kits, at some point between 1982 and 1984.
Mr Kent had told the judge, in a written argument, that Bennell’s crimes were “notorious”.
“Because of the suggestion that they were linked in some way to the defendant, Manchester City Football Club, the club responsibly took two important steps: in 2016 it established an independent investigation and, after a criminal trial of Bennell was completed in February 2018, the following month it put all known legal representatives of Bennell’s victims on notice of its intention to set up a no-fault compensation scheme and sought contributions to its development,” he said.
“Without any legal obligation to do so, the club then launched the Manchester City FC Survivors’ Scheme on March 11 2019 providing for substantial redress payments on a no-fault basis together with defined legal costs as well as a personal apology and the offer of a personal meeting with the club itself.
“This was expressly stated not to be taken as any admission of liability for Bennell’s actions as a matter of law.
“They did this because of the very considerable sympathy they felt and feel for those who as children were appallingly abused.”