Ex-English play­ers al­lege sex abuse

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

LON­DON:

For­mer Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur striker Paul Ste­wart and two other ex­play­ers have come for­ward to al­lege sex­ual abuse at the hands of youth coaches when they were chil­dren. Ste­wart, capped three times by Eng­land, said he was re­peat­edly sex­u­ally as­saulted by a man who threat­ened to kill his fam­ily if he told any­one. The 52-year-old, who also played for Liver­pool and Manch­ester City, joins for­mer Crewe Alexan­dra play­ers Andy Wood­ward and Steve Wal­ters in speak­ing out about abuse they suf­fered.

“The men­tal scars led me into other prob­lems with drink and drugs,” Ste­wart told yes­ter­day’s Daily Mir­ror. “I know now it was a groom­ing process. The level of abuse got worse and worse.

“I wanted peo­ple to know how dif­fi­cult it was to come for­ward. It stirred up a lot of my past which I thought I had buried.” Ste­wart, a mar­ried fa­ther of three, said other play­ers were also abused by the man, who was not named. Ste­wart was en­cour­aged to speak out af­ter Wood­ward told The Guardian he had suf­fered years of abuse at the hands of con­victed pae­dophile Barry Ben­nell, a for­mer youth coach at Crewe.

Ben­nell was jailed for nine years in 1998 af­ter plead­ing guilty to sex­ual of­fences against young boys. He was im­pris­oned for two years in May 2015 for a his­toric sex­ual of­fence against a boy and has also spent time in jail in the United States. Cheshire Po­lice, re­spon­si­ble for polic­ing the Crewe area, said six peo­ple had come for­ward say­ing they wanted to speak to po­lice in the light of Wood­ward’s in­ter­view.

‘IM­MENSE COURAGE’

Wood­ward told The Guardian: “My life has been ru­ined un­til the age of 43, but how many oth­ers are there?

“I’m talk­ing about hun­dreds of chil­dren who Barry Ben­nell cherry-picked for var­i­ous foot­ball teams and who now, as adults, might still be liv­ing with that aw­ful fear.”

Wal­ters, who be­came Crewe’s youngest debu­tant in 1988, said he had also been abused by Ben­nell.

“All these years, I’ve had this se­cret in­side me,” he told The Guardian. “But I have to let it all out now. It’s the only way. I want clo­sure and I know, for a fact, this is go­ing to help me move on.” Based in north­west Eng­land and cur­rently in Eng­land’s fourth tier, Crewe have a wellestab­lished rep­u­ta­tion for de­vel­op­ing young play­ers. Crewe chair­man John Bowler, who was in po­si­tion at the time of Ben­nell’s of­fences, told the BBC the club were “dis­tressed” by the ac­cu­sa­tions and would re­view the sit­u­a­tion.

He added he was “very sorry for the dis­tress caused” to Wood­ward and Wal­ters. Wood­ward has been praised for speak­ing out by Bri­tain’s Na­tional So­ci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion of Cru­elty to Chil­dren (NSPCC). “It is time for the gov­ern­ment and sports or­gan­i­sa­tions to work to­gether to close gaps in child pro­tec­tion and make sure that the thou­sands of sports clubs across the coun­try have ro­bust safe­guard­ing poli­cies in place,” said an NSPCC spokesman.

Eng­land’s Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion has set up a helpline for for­mer play­ers to re­port abuse. In a joint state­ment, the FA, the Premier League and the Foot­ball League de­scribed Wood­ward’s story as “heart­break­ing” and praised his “im­mense courage”. — AFP

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