Barry Bennell, the serial pedophile whose abuse of young boys rocked the world of British soccer, was described as “the devil incarnate” after being sentenced to 31 years in jail on Monday.
The 64-year-old former soccer coach, now known as Richard Jones, was sentenced for 50 counts of child sexual abuse against 12 boys between the ages of eight and 15 from 1979 to 1991.
During his summation, Judge Clement Goldstone QC told Liverpool Crown Court that Bennell’s actions were “sheer evil.”
“Your behavior towards these boys in grooming and seducing them before subjecting them to, in some cases, the most most serious, degrading and humiliating abuse was sheer evil.”
He added that Bennell had appeared to his victims as a god, adding: “In reality, you were the devil incarnate. You stole their childhoods and their innocence to satisfy your own perversion.”
Bennell was a ‘monster’
As the clapping that met the sentencing subsided, victims and their families began to embrace at the conclusion of the six-week trial.
Monday marked the first time during the trial that Bennell – who had watched the proceedings via video link from prison, where he is receiving medical treatment – had come face to face with his victims.
Bennell sat and listened impassively as four victims read out impact statements, detailing how his abuse had wrecked their lives.
One victim told the court of Bennell: “That monster decided it was fun for him to use me as a sex toy, someone he could get his kicks from.”
Another victim said that the abuse had made him thinking of taking his own life.
“Not a day goes by without thinking about the abuse I suffered. I loved football and like most boys it was my dream to play professionally,” he said. “My dreams were shattered and I often think what could have been.”
The revelation of Bennell’s crimes and the sheer scale of his abuse sent shockwaves through English soccer when the allegations burst into the public consciousness in November 2016.
A former youth team coach with Crewe Alexandra and a Manchester City junior scout, Bennell’s influence spanned across the northwest of England.
But it was only after former player Andy Woodward broke his 30-year silence over how he was abused by Bennell during a 2016 interview with the Guardian that others began to come forward.
Speaking outside court after the sentence, Woodward, who had previously described Bennell as a “monster,” told reporters: “No sentence is long enough for that man and right to the death he didn’t show any remorse or say sorry to anyone.
“I’m proud that I did speak out. If I hadn’t have done, we all wouldn’t be stood here now today.”
Another victim, Steve Walters, told reporters that Bennell had not shown “one ounce of remorse, not one shred of decency.”
“He is calculated, devious and scheming. He was then and he is now,” said Walters. “But he has finally been held to account for his horrific crimes against children.”
‘Master of control’
Since Woodward broke his 30-year silence in his interview with the Guardian, several others have spoken of how Bennell abused them.
A statement from another victim, Chris Unsworth, which was read out at court, revealed that he had chosen against having children out of fear he would be unable to protect them against “predatory people like Bennell.
In an interview with the BBC, Unsworth described how Bennell raped him between 50-100 times from the age of nine.
“Barry Bennell abused me, groomed me, manipulated me and destroyed all my childhood and dreams of becoming a professional footballer,” Unsworth said in a statement, according to the UK Press Association.
He added: “Despite trying to bury what happened to me all those years ago this continues affect me now.”
Who is Barry Bennell?
A highly regarded youth team coach during the 1980s, Bennell was described by Woodward as a “master of control” when it came to charming children and their parents.
A former youth player at Chelsea, Bennell gained a reputation for developing young players while at Crewe Alexandra, a club in the northwest of England, as well as enjoying links with Manchester City.
The court heard how Bennell would hoodwink parents into gaining their trust before taking their children and abusing them at his home, in his car, on football tours and at holiday parks.
Prosecutors spoke of how Bennell had a “power hold” over his victims, who were fearful that speaking out could jeopardize their dreams of becoming professional footballers.
Several of his victims had turned to alcohol in later life, while others had spoken of their depression and having suicidal thoughts.
This is not the first time Bennell has been prosecuted for offenses against children.
He has been jailed three other times for child abuse, including once in the United States where he was reportedly described by Florida police as having “almost an insatiable appetite” for young boys.
In 1998, Bennell was jailed for nine years after pleading guilty to 23 charges of sexually abusing six children. Woodward was among his victims at Crewe football club.
Bennell was convicted and sentenced to prison most recently in 2015 for two years for a past sexual offense against a 12-year-old boy.
CNN’s James Masters wrote from London. Milena Veselinovic reported from Liverpool.