Football sex abuse: Crewe launch child abuse investigation

Left to right: Jason Dunford, Steve Walters, Victoria Derbyshire, Chris Unsworth, Andy Woodward Image copyright EPA
Image caption Ex-players Jason Dunford, Steve Walters, Chris Unsworth and Andy Woodward have spoken to the BBC about alleged abuse

Crewe Alexandra will hold an independent review into the way they dealt with historical child sex abuse allegations, the club has announced.

It comes as a fifth former player made claims of of sexual abuse against ex-Crewe youth team coach Barry Bennell.

Crewe said they were determined a thorough investigation took place at the earliest opportunity.

Bennell, now 62, has served three jail sentences for child sex offences, including one last year.

In a statement, Crewe Alexandra said it "believes an independent review, to be conducted via the appointment of external legal counsel, is the correct way forward in the circumstances".

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Andy Woodward was the first player to go public with his claims last week. The former Bury and Sheffield United player says he was abused while at Crewe Alexandra from the age of 11 to 15.

After Mr Woodward appeared on the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme, Steve Walters, Chris Unsworth and Jason Dunford all came forward with their own allegations against Mr Bennell - none of which had formed part of any previous court case.

On Sunday Anthony Hughes claimed Bennell abused him on a sofa while he was at Crewe Alexandra's centre of excellence.

He told the Sunday Mirror Bennell would make children in the club's junior team strip to their shorts and show them pornography.

He told the paper: "He is a beast - and it's vital the truth now comes out."

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Media captionFootballers speak out over sexual abuse

More than 100 calls have been received by a special helpline set up by the NSPCC for people who wanted to talk about abuse at football clubs.

The Professional Footballers' Association (PFA) told BBC Radio 5 live that more than 20 of its members have been in contact about allegations of historical child sexual abuse.

Michael Bennett, head of player welfare at the PFA said: "The floodgates have been opened by those guys earlier this week and the numbers are increasing as we speak."

Police forces in Hampshire, Cheshire, Northumbria and London have opened investigations into historical child sexual abuse claims in football.

Beyond football

Senior figures in both the police and the FA have said they expect more allegations to surface.

Chief Constable Simon Bailey, of the National Police Chiefs' Council, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Saturday: "We are receiving reports of abuse in all sorts of different institutions.

"I am not in the least bit surprised that we are now seeing the lid lifted on exploitation within the world of football and I suspect there will be other sporting governing bodies who will come forward and who will identify the fact that they have similar problems."

Across the sporting industry, Operation Hydrant, the national police hub coordinating historical sex abuse claims, said it is investigating seventeen sports people and allegations of abuse at 24 sporting venues.

The Premier League said it was concerned by the allegations and urged those with information to come forward.

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Image caption BBC football pundit Robbie Savage played for Crewe when Bennell was coach - but he was not abused

The PFA said it is ready to support anyone who comes forward with its nationwide network of counsellors and therapists.

Former Wales international Robbie Savage, who played for Crewe from 1994-97, also raised fears there could be hundreds of victims of sexual abuse within football.

The BBC football pundit was scouted by Bennell at the age of 11 but told the Mirror he was "one of the lucky ones" who was not abused by the coach.

"These boys were at an age when all they wanted in the world was to be a footballer," said Savage, who called for a full inquiry with "total transparency".

"If they were abused, maybe they were simply too scared to tell someone or they were terrified it was their football career over."

Not enough evidence

A former director of Crewe Alexandra has said the club was aware in the late 1980s of allegations that Bennell had sexually abused a junior footballer.

Hamilton Smith told the Guardian on Saturday that senior officials had discussed sacking Bennell but decided there was not enough evidence.

Mr Smith said talks had been convened between senior officials at Crewe Alexandra, including then-chairman Norman Rowlinson, who died in 2006.

Despite the discussions, the paper says Bennell was allowed to stay in his position as youth coach.

Mr Smith said a decision was made that Bennell was not to be left alone with boys and he was stopped from having them stay overnight at his home.

Crewe did not comment on the latest allegations, but previously said they were "making inquiries". The English League Two club has also said it is "reflecting from within".

Crewe's director of football Dario Gradi has said the first he knew of Bennell's crimes was in 1994.

According to the Guardian, Mr Smith retained concerns about the set-up at Crewe after leaving the club.

The NSPCC has set up a helpline for people affected by sexual abuse at football clubs, supported by the FA. It is available 24 hours a day on 0800 023 2642