Barry Bennell

Manchester City have launched an investigation into the club’s links with the convicted paedophile at the centre of football’s child abuse scandal.

Officials at the Etihad Stadium have acted after it emerged former Crewe Alexandra employee Barry Bennell, who has been jailed three times, coached junior teams connected to City.

City’s investigation came on the same day former Crewe manager and current director of football Dario Gradi issued a statement expressing sympathy for Bennell’s victims.

The NSPCC also revealed that a hotline set up in conjunction with the FA for victims of sex abuse within football took more than 50 calls in its first two hours.

One of those calls is understood to have concerned Newcastle United and an alleged incident involving their former employee George Ormond. In 2002, Ormond, who had worked part-time at the club’s youth scheme, was jailed for six years for a string of indecent assaults over almost 25 years.

The judge called him a ‘predatory abuser’ and it is understood an ex-player has now gone to the police to claim he was abused by Ormond.

As the scandal escalated on Thursday, Sportsmail was also given the identity of another coach who is alleged to have sexually abused at least one boy from a club’s youth system. He is also thought to have been a close associate of Bennell. Bennell had links to City before working full-time at Crewe and ran boys teams from City’s Platt Lane training ground.

Now City are scouring internal and external records to find how close Bennell was allowed to get to their youth system.

Although never a permanent member of staff, Bennell’s boys teams played in City’s colours and he boasted of his links to the club in front of players. One told the Channel Four Dispatches team which investigated Bennell’s activities in 1997 that he feared he would not be invited to City again if he did not continue visiting Bennell at his home.

Former City directors also featured in the programme dismissing the seriousness of the story. ‘What do you call them, piddyphiles?’ one former director asked Dispatches reporter Deborah Davies.

On Thursday a City spokesperson said: ‘The club is aware of allegations that Barry Bennell had an association with Manchester City Football Club in the 1980s. As a result the club is currently undertaking a thorough investigation of any past links he might have had with the organisation.’

The club will attempt to discover if any former youth players have suffered mental health problems or even attempted suicide. Once the information is clearer and the extent of Bennell’s involvement with the club has been established, the club intend to reach out to any victims with support and counselling if required.

But on Thursday, Ian Ackley, who was the first player to reveal that he was abused by Bennell when he spoke to Dispatches in 1997, told ITV that the FA and any clubs involved should apologise.

Ackley, who played under Bennell at amateur youth level and testified against him on counts of sexual abuse, said: ‘It was a dirty little subject that people wanted to get brushed under the carpet. Nobody wanted to be associated with it.

"It’s time people said yes, we made a mistake. We didn’t keep these children safe”.

They failed in their duty of care to us. Those individuals who employed Bennell or made him an associate of their clubs, those people should have had a responsibility to care for those children in their charge but they failed. Those people should be accountable. The organisations, the clubs themselves had an obligation to ensure that the people they employed were acting in a proper way.’

Ackley had a brief spell at Manchester United, playing for their junior teams, before a short spell as a professional at Rochdale, only to quit the game after less than a year because of the mental anguish of the abuse he suffered. His story echoes Andy Woodward, the former Crewe player who waived his anonymity last week to reveal he was abused by Bennell over four years.

Woodward is due to appear on the BBC on Friday with fellow victim Steve Walters and two other players. Former England players David White and Paul Stewart have also come forward to say they were abused - with White another Bennell victim. Stewart says he was abused by a different coach. Again, Sportsmail is aware of the coach’s identity.

At Crewe, pressure had been growing on former manager Gradi to speak out. Via a statement, he expressed sympathy for Bennell’s victims ‘not only at Crewe, but at other clubs in the north west’.

The 75-year-old, who remains director of football at Crewe, added: ‘The first I knew of Barry Bennell’s crimes was when he was arrested in the United States in 1994. I knew nothing of his crimes before this time when he was employed by us.

No one at the football club knew of Bennell’s crimes until his arrest in 1994. The club are in the process of a review and I won’t be making any further comment until this is finalised.’

England captain Wayne Rooney, an ambassador for the NSPCC, said: ‘I would encourage anyone who has or is suffering from abuse to call the NSPCC’s new football helpline. It’s important that people know there is help available and they don’t need to suffer in silence.’

Former Crewe, Liverpool and England midfielder Danny Murphy told talkSPORT that he was not shocked by the revelations about Bennell.

Daily Mail