Crewe to launch independent review into handling of child abuse allegations

Crewe Alexandra football club announced it will launch an independent investigation into how it has dealt with child sex abuse allegations concerning a former youth team coach.

The development came a day after the Guardian revealed Crewe had been warned that convicted child abuser Barry Bennell had sexually abused one of his junior footballers, but had allowed him to stay at the club for a number of years. Four ex-players have so far made allegations of sexual abuse against Bennell, including Andy Woodward, 43, whose account of how he had suffered has prompted a string of footballers to come forward with similar claims.

A statement released by Crewe on Saturday, 10 days after the Guardian first published Woodward’s testimony, said they were “determined a thorough investigation” should be launched at the earliest opportunity. It added that the Cheshire club “believes an independent review, to be conducted via the appointment of external legal counsel, is the correct way forward in the circumstances”.

Crewe’s announcement followed a warning from a senior police chief that a large number of alleged victims of child sex abuse in football have yet to break their silence and that the growing scandal could also engulf other British sports.

Simon Bailey, the chief constable of Norfolk Constabulary and the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for child protection, said on Saturday that a “significant” number of victims were likely to emerge, and warned that other sports’ governing bodies may start reporting similarly shocking claims.

His comments came as Operation Hydrant, which investigates allegations of historical child sex abuse within institutions or by people of public prominence, also attempted to calculate the scale of the alleged abuse. The national inquiry into child sexual abuse has already contacted all forces in England and Wales asking them to forward details urgently of any allegations they have recently received.

Scotland Yard and the Northumberland, Cheshire and Hampshire forces have launched separate investigations into historical child sex abuse allegations.

Elsewhere, the quest to track down further alleged victims of Bennell and other paedophiles in the sport continued on Saturday. The Football Association has contacted each county FA in England and Wales, asking them to forward any information to a special hotline.

The England captain, Wayne Rooney, has also urged anyone who may have been abused to seek help, while former Wales international Robbie Savage, who played for Crewe between 1994 and 1997, speculated that there could be hundreds of victims of sexual abuse in football.

Bailey said: “I suspect … we will see a significant increase in the numbers that are currently reporting allegations of abuse to us. 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.”

Some of the claims have come from children’s charity the NSPCC, which last week set up a dedicated hotline – 0800 023 2642 – for football-related cases and has recorded more than 100 individuals contacting the number. The Premier League has said it is “very concerned” by the allegations.

Bennell, 62, who worked for Crewe, Manchester City, Stoke and junior teams in north-west England and the Midlands, has served three prison sentences for child sex offences, including one last year.

He was jailed for four years for raping a British boy on a 1994 football tour of Florida, and given a nine-year sentence for 23 offences against six boys in England in 1998.

On Friday, former players Steve Walters, Chris Unsworth and Jason Dunford spoke about being abused by Bennell in an emotional interview on Victoria Derbyshire’s BBC programme.

Former Manchester City youth team player Dunford said the scandal was bigger than the Jimmy Savile revelations. Police have put the total number of Savile’s possible victims at 589.