Fair Play for Children News Special — Bennell: Elephants in the room, chickens coming home, but platitudes don’t suffice

Jan Cosgrove
9 min readFeb 16, 2018
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Jan Cosgrove (L) has been National Secretary of Fair Play for Children since 1991 and involved at its national level since 1979.

Also, he founded a children’s mobile play project in his local area in 1983 and help found a local youth project in the early 1990's

He served on a working party of the Education Department which met after the publication of the Bichard Report post-Soham child murders and which led to the establishment of the DBS, and also represented the national voluntary sector on a CRB Working Party.

This Special also contains links to current press reports.

Gary Speed (back) and Mark Hazeldene, both Bennell proteges, both committed suicide

“ Gary Speed and Mark Hazeldine both had the world at their feet, but both were found hanged years later. Was it after abuse by Barry Bennell? The evidence suggests yes says DEBORAH DAVIES, who investigated the paedophile coach 20 years ago “ [Daily Mail ]

The saga of Barry Bennell continues to re-appear at intervals, as a needful reminder that the scandal in professional and amateur youth football over abuse of (mainly) boys in the game has not yet been resolved nor proper accountability rendered by those who had opportunity.

“Football is such a manly game”

The response of the then-Chairman of Manchester City in the 90’s C4 DispatchesTV programme (yes the 90s) when confronted with the reality of Barry Bennell’s activities after his return and arrest from the States following serving a sentence there for offences when he took a group of boys there.

“Our findings suggested a fundamental failure in football to protect young players from predatory paedophiles, yet the programme went out to a deafening silence from players, clubs and the authorities.”

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5397003/Barry-Bennell-victim-sure-Gary-Speed-abused-him.html#ixzz57JCmKIXb

“ In Wall of Silence, Speed’s former boyhood team-mates speak from their own experience of being ‘a special one’ while being abused — and of seeing Gary treated in the same way.”

“ Bennell then denies anything happened with Speed, but adds ominously: ‘If I did, would I tell you? Then [I’d] be touted as the cause of his death.’”

The issue of the vulnerability of boys seeking a football career thus had come into the public domain, and as Fair Play for Children’s National Secretary at that time, I had come into contact with it. Around 1997, we published a resource on child protection in children’s play setting, the FA indeed asked for a copy, and we also had a unique resource not available to football clubs, charities and local organisations etc working with children in leisure settings.

I said in a letter we would welcome discussions with them, but no response.

In 1994, we were part of a national Home-Office funded pilot VOCS (Voluntary Organisations Consultancy Service) which afforded its members access to criminal records checks for the first time. The CRB (now DBS) took a further 8 years to emerge in the wake of Dunblane (and Soham created the background for DBS). In that period Fair Play provided such checks for over 8,000 people with regular access to children.

The Bichard Report

http://www.fairplayforchildren.org/pdf/1299569030.pdf

Not just Bennell

In 1997, we also had a request from a Bristol based Junior League, could they access our system, up to then confined mainly to youth clubs, play projects and the like. It seemed logical, they did and submitted 50 referees and coaches of which 49 came back clear. I was in Bristol a little later meeting the key officer in the revived Child Protection Unit who mentioned the 50th who was the subject of a letter via VOCS to me from the Deputy Chief Constable of the Avon & Somerset Force. The letter expressed concern, based on local police intelligence, about David Lawrence, respected and involved in the Junior League for around 20 years.

Rob, the officer, told me they had arrested him more than once, and that he got away with it at one time relying on a 13 year old live-in rent boy (sic) as alibi. This was wholly new territory, not just for me and Fair Play, we had to let the good people of the League know. There were severe restrictions on what could be said, it was via a phone call (guess why) and it resulted in three league officials meeting with and suspending him,

To their credit, the Deputy Chief Constable took the very brave step of copying his letter to me to David Lawrence. My advice to the League, to say to Lawrence they would consider reinstatement if there was agreement between him and the Force that this was safe.

Lawrence was arrested over a year later, he was found guilty of 9 specimen charges (3 more were not proven) and served jail, coming out in November 2001. Within 3 months he was in another League in the City, it took a court order to remove him, and I was contacted later by the brother of a man whom Lawrence had assaulted on one of his trips, to the Isle of Man, I was given the picture of a life destroyed — mental health, family life, work and relationships.

Lawrence, like Bennell, was later convicted of such historic offences, chillingly since release I managed to trace him on Facebook where he said he had an interest in the amateur, junior game, as if revealing a virtue. Page gone, where is he?

So Bennell is not the only one convicted of serial abuse, and charged again for unrevealed offences after serving time. Lawrence also showed that this was not confined to the Bennell zone of hopefuls for the professional game, groomed for illusory fame. This was in the much-wider amateur game, dads yelling hoarsely from the touchline.

The sorry record of the Football Association

Back to Bennell. With experience with the Junior League, we had more applications from similar, great people who realised the issue had to be looked into, they had a national body and it was suggested Fair Play held a Conference for such Leagues of which are are many across the country. At Fair Play, a small national body, we grasped this exciting opportunity and contacted the Professional Footballers Association, meeting Brendon Batson at their HQ in Manchester, very supportive, also colleagues met officials of Leeds Utd and we also contacted the FA, hoping for a great support in the wake of Bennell and Lawrence.

Remember, we had the VOCS access, we were the first example of what became Umbrella Bodies in the CRB system, it had removed Lawrence from access to kids. The first response I now recall getting re the FA came about after we had fixed a Conference for Junior Leagues at Leicester City FC grounds in September 2000. Not from the FA but from Captain David Forbes who was a founder of Fair Play, respected in the London Playing Fields Association and a member of the London Region FA board.

He told me that the official dealing with such issues at the FA, Tony Pickerin, had written to him and others throwing doubt on our bona fides, and calling those who would be involved in attending the Conference to a meeting on the same day in London. On contacting Mr Pickerin, he was obstructive, I wrote to the FA Secretary only to get their solicitor writing back with a bland brickwall. It has emerged since that the internal inquiry the FA said it had set up was abolished in 2003, allegedly under the influence of Mr Pickerin.

We later staged the Conference at Leicester FC, in December 2000, junior league attendees knew what had been going on, told me the effors to block us when they said the FA was offering nothing, and were contemptuous of the Association. One wonders even now what we could have done together had the FA listened to their own junior league folk.

What of the FA and checks? VOCS ended late 2001, Fair Play had signed up as an Umbrella Body with CRB by the time it launched Spring 2002. The FA? Not joined until another 18 months and, of course, with what I recognised as its selfish, exclusive dog-in-manger ‘ownership’ of all things soccer, FA approved organisations had to submit CRB applications only via them ….

Consequences, not for the FA

It also seems that Pickerin may have had a role in squashing action on the Crewe Alexandra report eventually submitted to them. Later, one of Bennell’s proteges, Gary Speed, committed suicide by hanging, though to this day no one officially will connect with his time under Bennell. The allegations and rumours persist.

The FA made huge play with its eventual tie-in with the NSPCC, but one asks, in the sure knowledge of Bennell and Lawrence, at the very least, did either look at the needs of Survivors for support, for space to reveal ….. It took another decade or more for the first of those whose lives were affected, ruined to brave the situation and come forward. There is surely proof-enough of the abject, self-serving failure of English Soccer at its top levels to bother to address the realities of the ‘manly game’.

The Penn State affair, how it was handled, and consequences

It’s worth perhaps comparing the FA with the response of the US set-up when the most-respected and iconic institution of American Football, Penn State University, became revealed as the site of serial abuse by a most respected coach, . It rocked the whole game, Penn State Uni was heavily fined, tens of millions $ and demoted down leagues. The history showed cover-up, reports and whistle-blowing ignored, so imagine that applied to Crewe, Man City and also appropriate action re the time-serving FA …..

The ‘manly game’ self-evidently could not harbour such abusers, Bennell, manly, good-looking, talented, producing results in Soccer’s relentless drive to produce the next generation of “winners” — even in the face of repeated concerns and reports, was able to maintain his cover, and create a victim list of hundreds. In the Sandusky affair in the US, there have been sanctions and financial consequences for those organisations that ignored his reign of abuse, maybe here this latest round of convictions re one single abuser might lead to class actions against those who miserably failed the young men and boys whose lives have been ruined.

My sorrow is for those betrayed and utter frustration that Fair Play, set up in the wake of tragedy because of denial of safe space to play, was sidelined as a pioneering body by the National Body for Soccer, the FA. That clubs like Crewe in effect played down the issues, failed to report, buried the evidence so-to-speak, looking more at ownership and reputation rather than the wellbeing of the kids on whom the game’s future relies.

The response was less than inadequate, it was dire and shameful, there are those who have braved it to come forward, there are those still out there, and there are the silent voices not with us today who can never tell us.

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Jan Cosgrove

National Secretary of Fair Play for Children, Also runs Bognor Regis Herald online. Plus runs British Music Radio online