Clinical Negligence & Catastrophic Injury Solicitors
Manchester City cannot be held responsible for Barry Bennell abuse, court rules.
The claimants, now in their 40s and 50s, said Bennell, abused them when they were in schoolboy football teams he coached in north-west England between 1979 and 1985
Manchester City managers denied the claim, saying Bennell, 68, was a local scout for the club in the mid-1970s but not between 1979 and 1985.
Manchester City Football Club (MCFC) accepted that Bennell acted as if he were a representative of the club and did not contest the Claimants’ accounts that this influenced their decisions to play for his teams.
Nor did MCFC challenge the men’s accounts about Bennell’s abuse but said that any ties it had with Bennell ended in 1979 when he started work at Taxal Edge Children’s Home, High Peak, Derbyshire.
MCFC claimed that the teams Bennell managed from then on “had no connection whatsoever with MCFC” and that it was not vicariously liable for Bennell’s actions against any of the Claimants
In his written judgment, Mr Justice Johnson, accepted the eight men’s accounts but said the fact that Bennell was a scout for Manchester City, coached their feeder teams and helped to organise trial games did not make the club vicariously liable for his abuse, as the eight men had argued.
He said: “The work that Bennell did for MCFC (Manchester City Football Club) did not require him to have children stay at his home overnight. The connection between the abuse and Bennell’s relationship with MCFC is 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. It follows that it has not been shown that MCFC is legally responsible for Bennell’s acts of abuse.
“Bennell was not in a relationship with MCFC akin to employment. His relationship was that of a volunteer football coach who ran a number of junior teams (including teams with a connection to MCFC) and who, in that context, acted as a volunteer unpaid scout, recommending players to MCFC for them to consider taking on as associated schoolboys, and assisting MCFC in the conduct of trial games
“That was his enterprise, undertaken at his own risk, which MCFC did not control, but was a relationship of mutual benefit to MCFC and Bennell.”
Bennell, who is serving a 34-year jail term after being convicted on five separate occasions of child sexual abuse offences against 22 boys, gave evidence that supported the club’s case during the trial but Justice Johnson rejected his evidence, saying he was a “manipulative liar” and “not a credible witness.”
Mr Justice Johnson said the claimants had shown that Bennell did have connections with the club before 1980, which then resumed from around 1981 but added: “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.
Justice Johnson agreed that for at least part of the relevant period, Bennell was in full-time paid employment at a children’s home at Taxal Edge.
He said: “His footballing activities were voluntary and undertaken in his spare time. This is far from determinative, but it is indicative of his independence.”.
He also pointed out that Bennell had a portfolio of footballing activities some of which were totally separate from MCFC and where he took any financial risks himself.
Justice Johnson added that an employment relationship involves an implied obligation to comply with an employer’s lawful and reasonable instructions.
He said: “Here, there is no evidence that Bennell was under any obligation to comply with instructions given by MCFC. He agreed to organise the teams at some trial games, but there was no evidence that he was under any obligation to do that.
“Consistent with the lack of any control by MCFC over how Bennell ran his teams, there is no evidence that he was subject to any form of disciplinary code. Bennell’s involvement with MCFC was not part of its core business of running a successful first division team.”
The men claimed damages for psychiatric injuries, with six of them also claiming damages for loss of potential football earnings.
Bennell, who once lived near Buxton, Derbyshire, had abused schoolboy footballers after inviting them to stay at his home. Despite having been convicted of abusing six of the claimants, Bennell accused four of them of lying.
Justice Johnson said they were not lying and praised the Claimants, saying their actions had helped to ensure “future generations of children are better protected.”
A spokesman for MCFC said the club had “both personally and publicly apologised without reservation for the unimaginable suffering that each survivor experienced as the result of abuse they suffered” and repeated the apology to all those affected.
The eight Claimants are understood to be considering an appeal.