Further to the Crewe Alexandra Football Club statement issued on 15 February 2018, the club considers it necessary to make the following further statement to address specific matters which have been raised.
In November 2016, the club stated that it would undertake an independent review into allegations involving Barry Bennell whilst he was employed by the club. This review was to investigate the allegations which had been made involving Mr Bennell, as well as what the club may have known about Mr Bennell’s offending.
However, following the club’s announcement, Cheshire Police initiated its own extremely thorough investigation into the club. This included not only investigating the allegations involving Mr Bennell, but also to determine what knowledge Crewe Alexandra may have had of Mr Bennell’s offending. The police’s detailed investigations took place with the full support and co-operation of the club. This included the club assisting the police with identifying, locating and providing contact details for a significant number of individuals that the police wanted to interview, including former directors and employees of the club. The club also provided the police with voluminous documentation, including full copies of board minutes retained by the club for the entire period that Mr Bennell was employed by the club.
As the club has previously stated, this thorough investigation concluded that there was no evidence to corroborate that anyone at the club was aware of Mr Bennell’s offending. For the avoidance of doubt, this included both John Bowler and Dario Gradi as members of the club at the time.
This investigation also looked into the reasons for Mr Bennell’s dismissal from the club in 1992. The police determined that Mr Bennell was dismissed due to him being unhappy with coaching responsibilities that Mr Gradi had given to him. As a result, the police investigation concluded that there was no suggestion that Mr Bennell was dismissed by the club for anything other than football-related reasons. It follows that the police found no evidence that Mr Bennell was dismissed because of any complaints for sexual assault being made against him at that time.
Following Mr Bennell’s dismissal, the club acknowledges that Mr Gradi wrote to parents advising that he did not want any of the boys to attend other coaching sessions or games organised by Mr Bennell. The reason for this letter being written was simply because the club and Mr Gradi did not want to potentially lose any promising young players to a team coached by Mr Bennell. This letter was not written in the context of either the club or Mr Gradi having any knowledge of complaints for sexual assault being made against Mr Bennell.
The club also acknowledges that Mr Gradi provided a character reference for Mr Bennell following his arrest in America in 1994. This letter was written at the specific request of Mr Bennell’s then wife. The club understands that similar character references were also written by a further 57 individuals, including former players of the club, in support of Mr Bennell. Mr Gradi maintains that, which he stated in this character reference, that not once did he ever receive a complaint of sexual assault involving Mr Bennell.
As a fully independent and comprehensive police investigation has now taken place, the club does not intend to commission a further independent investigation to duplicate the thorough enquiries that have already been undertaken.
The police’s report, detailing the outcome of their investigation, has also been supplied to the Independent Review into Child Sex Abuse Allegations in Football headed by Clive Sheldon QC.
The club is aware that a former director, Hamilton Smith, has alleged that he received a complaint of abuse involving Mr Bennell and reported these allegations to the board of directors in or about 1988.
Mr Smith was Managing Director of the club from May 1987 until February 1990. Every available member of the board of directors of the club during the time that Mr Smith was Managing Director has been interviewed by the police. Each and every individual, including the Manager of the club at the time, Mr Gradi, has denied having any recollection of Mr Smith raising any allegations of abuse about Mr Bennell at any board meeting in 1988 or ever.
Further, there is no reference whatsoever of any allegations of abuse being raised by Mr Smith in the contemporaneous board minutes retained by the club. Despite Mr Smith’s allegations that he raised his knowledge of Mr Bennell’s offending to board members in 1988, including to Mr Bowler, the board minutes show that Mr Smith still proceeded to nominate Mr Bowler to be chairman of the club in both 1988 and 1989. The club is also concerned to note that, despite Mr Smith apparently admitting to being aware of Mr Bennell’s offending in 1988, Mr Smith does not appear to have reported his knowledge of Mr Bennell’s offending to either the police until 2016 or the FA until 2001, by which time Mr Bennell had already been convicted of offences.
Mr Smith was specifically interviewed by the police as part of their thorough investigation into the club. Despite Mr Smith’s evidence, the police were still able to conclude that there was no evidence to corroborate that the club was aware of Mr Bennell’s offending.
Finally, and above all else, the club wishes to make it absolutely clear that it sincerely regrets the terrible crimes committed by Mr Bennell upon young footballers over a significant number of years. The club also wishes to reiterate its deepest sympathies to the victims and survivors of Barry Bennell.
Note to Editors – the club will not be offering interviews or further comments on the statement at this stage.