Alleged victim tells court: I felt Gradi saved me by halting Bennell sleepovers

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An alleged sex abuse victim of Barry Bennell said he grew up thinking ex-Crewe Alexandra boss Dario Gradi “saved” him when he stopped him staying at the youth coach’s house.

Jurors at Liverpool Crown Court heard the promising junior footballer lived hundreds of miles away and slept over at Bennell’s then-home in Derbyshire with the agreement of the club.

There, at Bennell’s home, he says he was raped up to 20 times by the defendant over 18 months before he said Gradi stopped him staying there.

The complainant told police that Crewe had the best youth system in the country at the time “on a par with Manchester United and Manchester City” and Bennell’s coaching methods were “far ahead” of his counterparts.

Barry Bennell denies the allegations (PA)
Barry Bennell denies the allegations (PA)

He would join other young boys in staying overnight with Bennell ahead of matches, the court was told.

He told police how Bennell had first tried to touch him while he was in a bunk bed but he told him to “go away”.

The complainant said: “Nothing happened then for a while and he started to kind of play mind games, saying I wouldn’t be able to play for England.

“He wasn’t playing me in the right position. I got dropped out of the football team. I think it was five or six weeks later, that was the first time it happened.”

He added: “He had this power over you and he had this nasty streak. He could turn on you just like that. He would say ‘I’ll ruin your football career’.”

The complainant broke down in tears on occasions as he described being “paralysed with fear” while he was abused by Bennell.

The abuse ended when he no longer stayed at Bennell’s address, he told detectives.

He said: “Dario Gradi stopped me staying with Bennell. I was not allowed to stop there any more.”

Asked what was the reason given, he replied: “I have no idea. All I can remember is it just stopped.

“I grew up thinking Dario saved me from Barry. I never stayed there again.”

Dario Gradi
The witness told the court he grew up thinking Dario Gradi had saved him from abuse (Clint Hughes/Empics)

Explaining why he did not speak out at the time, he said: “I didn’t know what was normal. I had no idea what I had to do to become a professional footballer.”

Bennell told him he was going to be the best player in his position in the country, he said.

Giving evidence later, the complainant sobbed in the witness box as he was shown photos of himself with Bennell as a boy.

The court heard when questioned by police about whether he had been abused by Bennell in 1997 he had denied it.

When he was asked by Eleanor Laws QC, defending, about claiming compensation, he said: “I don’t need money at all, thank you. All I want is closure.”

Asked if he had previously said he had been “let down” by Crewe Alexandra, he replied: “God, yeah.”

He told the court the abuse had “never” been discussed among the boys.

He said: “We all wanted to be footballers. Who’d have believed you and it was, like, everyone was scared.”

Bennell, 64, denies 48 child sex offences against 11 complainants aged from eight to 14 between 1979 and 1990.

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