LONDON, Nov 30 — Former coach Barry Bennell, who is at the centre of a scandal rocking English football, was yesterday charged with eight counts of child abuse, prosecutors said.
Bennell, who has already served three jail terms for previous child sex offences, has faced a slew of new allegations by at least 20 former footballers spanning three decades beginning in the 1970s when he was working for Crewe Alexandra, Manchester City and Stoke City.
“Following a review of the evidence, in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors, Mr Bennell, 62, has today been charged with eight offences of sexual assault against a boy under the age of 14,” said a statement from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).
Bennell, who it was revealed on Monday had to be hospitalised when he was found unconscious in a hotel near London, will appear in court on December 14.
The latest charges stem from Cheshire Police but six other police forces are investigating accusations made against Bennell in a scandal Football Association Chairman Greg Clarke has called “the greatest crisis” in English football he could recall.
Police Scotland have also confirmed they have launched a probe following abuse allegations north of the border.
The FA has also launched its own internal review appointing leading lawyer Kate Gallafent, an expert in child protection, to head it up.
The British Government announced yesterday they will bring the police and the FA together for a meeting on the developing scandal.
Clarke took over as FA chairman in August and has already had to deal with the removal of Sam Allardyce as England coach over comments he made in a newspaper sting and the "poppygate" row with Fifa.
He told Sky News it was time to finally deal with the issues after they had been ignored.
“It's certainly the biggest (crisis) I can remember,” said Clarke.
“I think the moral consequences of failing to deal with some of these issues in the past we must get to the bottom of.”
Clarke doesn't know if the FA at the time deliberately turned a blind eye to the goings on although a reporter who made a documentary about sex abuse in football for Channel Four in 1997 has claimed there is a FA report from 2005 detailing 250 victims and spread over a number of clubs.
“I don't know if there was a cover-up or not, I really don't know,” said Clarke.
“I suspect like many big problems, people aren't drawn towards them. My methodology is, if there's a problem, run towards it, embrace it, fix it, disclose everything that happened.
“I think institutionally, all organisations in the old days used to protect themselves by keeping quiet and closing ranks.
“That's completely inappropriate and unacceptable today.”
Clarke told the BBC the FA review would not seek to speak to alleged victims nor would he confer with his predecessors as chairman.
“We've agreed with the police that we won't talk to any of the victims formally, because they have to talk to them, they have to take statements and we're not allowed to interfere in that process,” said Clarke, who added he thought criticism of the present FA was misplaced and they had acted speedily to look into the claims.
Chelsea announced they have retained an external law firm to carry out an investigation concerning an individual employed by the club in the 1970s, who is now dead.
“The club has contacted the FA to ensure that all possible assistance is provided as part of their wider investigation,” a Chelsea statement read.
“”This will include providing the FA with any relevant information arising out of the club's investigation.”
Fourth tier Cambridge also vowed to fully cooperate with the authorities.
“Cambridge United Football Club has received correspondence from Cambridgeshire Police,” a statement read.
“The correspondence indicated that, as a result of the publicity, some referrals have been shared with Cambridgeshire Police. From what we have been told, these date back to the 1990s and earlier.” — AFP