It goes without saying that I like 99% of others have found the recent revelations around Barry Bennell the football coach and scout completely sickening, to think this could happen in the industry we work in is so appalling and shocking. It has sparked all sorts of emotions in me after watching the original dispatches video on youtube which left me speechless and shocked. I had never seen it before. Why was this brushed under the carpet?
When I reflect on this it leaves me with the conclusion I have have had before. There is no doubt in my mind that people like this (men and women) that have sexual tendencies toward children and act out their sick fantasies are not dealt with strongly enough. The consequences resulting from the actions of these people when they follow through their urges cuts so deep and affects so many people around the victim to extents that somehow don't get considered enough or people and authorities don't realise.
If a person serves time as in the case of Barry Bennell. 9 years for 25 convictions does he come out cured? If somebody goes to jail for their actions of crime it is meant as a punishment. It might make the criminal think twice about a further assault or a thief think twice about stealing. But can sexual urges and instinct be controlled with the same mindset? As adults who are attracted to other adults can we relate to that? Imagine being single but being told it is against the law to look at or approach another adult that you are attracted to? I think that would be virtually impossible to prevent and I consider it impossible to prevent in proven paedophile’s whether they have been to jail or not. To me, if you are a threat to a child you should not be walking the streets with protected identities. It’s the children that should be protected first. Jail for a man like this should have been whole life, or 9 years and chemical castration (if that works). That then complete with constant monitoring and complete isolation from the public. Is that extreme? What about his human right’s? He didn't kill anyone? Well, I will explain further my ‘extreme view’ if that's how you see it.
He's convicted of 25 crimes against 6 boys. But how many others are there? Andy Woodward, Steve Walters, Paul Stewart, David White, Chris Unsworth, Jason Dunford and Ian Ackley have spoken up about him and potential other coaches. But, in the case of Barry Bennell it would be naive to consider we have seen and heard all the cases. This is made very clear in the heart breaking interview on Victoria Live. A lot of people are too embarrassed to come forward, so it must be more. But the original 6 for which he was charged, that's 6 lives affected. What if any of them ended up like my family?
We had a very difficult life of unexplained events. It didn't include sexual assault but it certainly was a very difficult time which my siblings and I endured. The end result was both our parents dyeing very young. 48 & 49. Without going into detail the whole episode resulted in elements of huge dysfunctional nature. Lets just say that we have seen problems including alcohol, drugs, depression, break ups, detachment, violence, emotional issues, anger and suicide attempts to name but a few. This progressed consequently through two further generations. Only years later most have found peace and normality stabilising their day to day lives. But these were all victims. A knock on affect that spirals out of control. Mixed in to this we had a mother who the kindest most giving charitable person I’ve ever known. But something also wasn't right. Things we overheard. My father suspected something. I even remember a ritual burning of evidence in the back garden. Maybe in that era that was supposed to be the method for getting over something that was torturing you. To me, none of it made sense, apart from a hunch. Working on that ‘hunch’ I did some homework. I asked a lot of questions from people still around. 15 years since my mother locked herself away and destroyed herself, I only recently had it confirmed. My mother had been a victim in a paedophile ring growing up in the Devon area. This is what left her so disturbed and something she never got over. Something that was covered up/ignored by her own friends and family. Im not suggesting they supported it. I actually know one member that was desperate to expose it and was trying to save her. But the rest turned a blind eye. Chose to pretend it didn’t happen despite her despair. In an era where saying “underpants” was deemed rude it seems the embarrassment of this would be too much to bear. Maybe they feel guilt, and a sense of blame for allowing certain situations to happen or allowing people into their lives. Better just to move on rather than face the outrage? Also, the perpetrators are so convincing as they control the extended family, maybe there is doubt? Who would believe us anyway? All this bears a striking resemblance to Barry Bennell. I have names, places, events but it looks like all the people involved are likely now dead. Or maybe they to moved on with protected identities?
At least I now have the explanation. I take some comfort in that and also feel I owed it to my poor tortured mother to find the truth, some people somewhere must have gasped a huge relief when they heard she fell quiet. She was no longer at risk of exposing them. For the record, if you’re alive and reading this, I haven't finished looking for you…
But it also means I’ve seen first hand the damage over generations of extended family these people inflict indirectly. They should get life for every life they ruined in my family. At the very least my mums. They murdered her and put her through the slowest painful death.
We see now in the excellent BBC drama The Missing the damage and carnage heaped upon a family as a result of the evil monster who kidnapped their daughter. Worse still is the cover up from like minded people or from people keen to not upset the image of in this case the British army. It’s so well written but, of course fictional. Credit to the writers. But this is something we have seen in other major organisations like the Catholic Church, the BBC and now, professional football. With what we now know is there anything less taboo than protecting children?
There of course has to be responsibility of the ignorance and lack of action from the organisations. It’s even been suggested that there was more people involved in organised paedophile rings. Frankly, that wouldn’t surprise me, why else would so many ‘accusations’ be dismissed out of hand? As they say, there is no smoke without fire?
It has to be said that the FA had taken great steps in the last decade regarding child protection and I applaud that. That follows the DBS implementation that schools followed post Huntley’s vile crime. But what I want to say is, who committed the crime? We have a tendency to go after everyone else and somehow let the perpetrators off the hook. Is it more PC madness? We can’t afford to offend someone? We have to include them? The strong hand needs to be with those that commit the crime which for me is not enough.
I have been on numerous child welfare/protection/safeguarding courses. It does open your eyes and also makes you think about your own actions and protection. It certainly reminds you to never put yourself in a questionable situation. I would also suggest they show the dispatches video from 1997 presented by Deborah Davies which somehow got little or no coverage and was not followed up sufficiently. Let’s not hide from the truth, this is why we are here. Ultimately that together with DBS checks makes it more difficult for a new Barry Bennell to utilise our game to carry out his or hers sick perversions. However one thing crosses my mind which I think adds weight to my argument of not dealing with perpetrators strongly enough. Ultimately, what has the training course done for those individuals that have those sick thoughts? Do they go, “oh, actually it’s wrong to do that”? So don't be a paedophile. A course isn't going to cure that. However we can’t be complacent and these awareness sessions do indeed serve to help prevent incidents.
Do we turn into hysterical paedophile hunters though? I have been all over the country delivering our new game we created in many schools. We and our staff are well qualified, well checked, we work within education requirements and of course we work within rules and our own guidelines. But being a new person in a school certainly highlights certain things.
I remember once packing away my goals and equipment in the car park. It happened to be next to the playground. I’m inside the school gates, I’ve got identification on. I’ve coached all morning. Its lunchtime. A few of the children said hello who I had been teaching that morning and two girls stopped by as I was back and forward to the car with equipment. They were asking about the game, who created it, where it is played etc. Of course as I was back and forward loading the car I answered their questions. One of the dinner ladies was looking over. I could feel I was being a watched. A good thing? They are looking after the welfare of the girls. That's cool, not an issues. I would be doing the same if it was my own children. But then the dinner lady came over, not looking at me she said “Come away from that man girls, we don't know who he is”. Well, I was a bit shocked with that. She made me feel awful. I was guilty of being spoken to. Why should I feel like that? You see, that's their fault. The likes of Bennell. In football we've all seen it. Hysteria, a granddad takes a photo of his grandchild playing football and were running over to him making him feel like that also! That can’t be right can it? I think as part of the courses we should be learning how to address this in how we communicate. For example If I have to approach a grandparent in situations like that I always start with an apology and explain things like identifying children that could be under the watch of the authorities and can’t be photographed. Remember, this is just an innocent loving proud granddad, please pay him the courtesy of an explanation and think about how hurtful and suggestive we can be in our protective cautious behavior.
But what is also highlighted in the job I do is the vulnerability of the children. It’s incredible. I meet some children for 40 minutes yet they are trying to hold your hand and cuddle you. There’s an immediate trust, it’s frightening. This is what makes this so much worse. What sort of animal can take advantage of that vulnerability? It certainly highlights why children indeed need many ears and eyes to gauge potential risks to them. But equally, we also need to remind ourselves that 99.9% of adults are genuine caring people.
When I think back to my childhood which was troubled to say the least, I found football. Trouble was, I couldn’t get there, I was picked up, for years, by the most genuine, nicest guy in my life at that time. Plus I've got a surprise. That's it! He picked up several players on a regular basis. Without him I would never have got to football. But we never went to his house or had any inappropriate behavior. He was my hero. An unpaid hero getting lads together to play football. He gave me something to look forward to, an escape. Ironically though, that's what Bennell did. That's what makes that twisted evil man so bad. He's made society’s really nice people, think twice about nice. Think twice about helping people. That makes me so mad. If it wasn't for my football coach, god know’s where I would be today. If anywhere.
We are in a culture that brings more football children’s parents to football so I think these situations are rarer. My own children both played football and they were never left alone with anyone other than our closest friends and family. I think the work of DBS checking, identity checking, workshops and culture changes certainly make it more difficult for a Barry Bennell to operate but it would be extremely naive to expect there to be no-ne out there with his thoughts and tendencies. My answer would be to deal with THEM ‘effectively’ to protect children that will inevitably come into contact with THEM. The system is too soft in its dealings with monsters like this. That man got nine years, but let’s put that in perspective. Nine years for alleged hundreds of rapes on children? He should never have seen daylight. I don’t think that is an ‘extreme view’.
I have seen the Interview on Victoria Live from four of the men. The deep pain in them men etched on their face and images frozen in their eyes. As parents and as, in this case ‘football people’ we owe a huge gratitude to them. What bravery and courage to have shared their gut wrenching stories for the purpose to help prevent this in the future. Big strong men completely broken up. I absolutely concur with them about their parents and extended network being victims of this evil twisted man. The punishment needs to be greater. Studies need to be done to uncover the true extends of carnage these people cause. It’s never just the physical person they attacked that’s the sole victim.
This ‘Man’ Bennell and others like him operated and got away with it because the subject was taboo and they held dreams in their hands. They bullied the victim and manipulated the loved ones around them. I can’t think of any example of a sadder low-life human being. We have got to oust them, lock them up, throw away the key, offer lifetime support to the victims and then move on so we can allow children to still form genuine appropriate relationships with decent adults.