By Brian Farmer, PA
Eight men who sued Manchester City after complaining of being abused by paedophile Barry Bennell more than 30 years ago have lost a High Court fight in the UK.
The men, now in their 40s and 50s, said Bennell, now 68, abused them when they were playing schoolboy football for teams he coached in north-west England between 1979 and 1985.
Mr Justice Johnson finished overseeing a trial at the High Court in London in December and ruled against the men on Monday.
The men claimed that Bennell, who became a coach at Crewe Alexandra in 1985, was a scout for City during that time and argued the relationship between Bennell and City was “one of employment or one akin to employment”.
They claimed the club, referred to as MCFC, was vicariously liable for the harm they suffered, which City bosses denied.
The eight men claimed damages for psychiatric injuries and six of them also claimed damages for loss of potential football earnings.
Mr Justice Johnson said the connection between the abuse and Bennell’s relationship with City was insufficient to give rise to vicarious liability.
“The relationship gave Bennell the opportunity to commit the abuse, but MCFC had not entrusted the welfare of the claimants to Bennell,” the judge said.
“It follows that it has not been shown that MCFC is legally responsible for Bennell’s acts of abuse.”
He added: “Each claim is therefore dismissed.”
City said Bennell was a local City scout in the mid-1970s but not between 1979 and 1985.
Bennell, who is in jail after being convicted of a string of child sex offences in recent years, also denies being linked to Manchester City during the 1980s.
He told the judge that he had been a “local scout” for City between 1975 and 1979, but not between 1979 and 1985.
Bennell, who gave evidence at the trial via video-link from HMP Littlehey, near Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, where he is being held, said the “reality” was that he “was never” a City coach and, “after 1978/1979”, junior teams he coached had “no connection at all” with City.
But he told the judge that he had “always used and exploited” his previous connections with City for his “own benefit”.
Solicitor David McClenaghan, who represented the men and works for law Firm Bolt Burdon Kemp, said there would be an appeal.
“My clients and I are both shocked and dismayed at the High Court decision handed down today which declined to award them substantial damages in their claims against Manchester City Football Club for abuse suffered at the hands of Barry Bennell,” he said.
“Despite the judge accepting that there was a connection between Bennell and Man City and that he was scouting for them, coaching their feeder teams and helping to organise trial games for them, the club has escaped liability on a technicality.
“We do not accept the decision as being correct and will be appealing the decision in the higher courts where we are confident we will secure the correct and just result.
“My clients are incredibly disappointed by the behaviour of Manchester City Football Club.”
Mr Justice Johnson said each claimant had proved that Bennell abused him.
He said Bennell was scouting for City, coaching their feeder teams, and helping to organise trial games.
“But the evidence suggests that Bennell was not an employee of MCFC and that he was not in a relationship with MCFC that is akin to employment,” said the judge.
“Further, even if his relationship with MCFC is taken to be akin to employment, his abuse of the claimants did not take place in the course of that employment.”
A Manchester City spokeswoman said after the ruling: “Importantly, whilst (the judge) found that the club was not vicariously liable for the actions of Barry Bennell, it was accepted by all parties that the abuse did take place.
“We understand that the legal team for the claimants intend to appeal the decision and, in respecting their right to do so, it would therefore not be appropriate to comment further on these specific proceedings, which remain ongoing.”
The spokeswoman said City has “both personally and publicly apologised without reservation for the unimaginable suffering that each survivor experienced as the result of abuse they suffered”.
She added: “The club reiterates this apology today to the survivors and to the multiple family members and friends affected by the traumatic events, the ramifications of which are felt by so many to the present day and will continue to be felt for a long time to come.”