Rooney urges sexual abuse victims to come forward

A new confidential counselling service has been opened after four retired players came forward to claim they were abused as youth players

Rooney urges sexual abuse victims to come forward

Wayne Rooney during a UEFA Europa League match at Old Trafford. 24-Nov-2016. Image: Martin Rickett PA Wire/PA Images

Manchester United and England captain Wayne Rooney has urged football players who have suffered abuse to call a new helpline so they no longer "suffer in silence."

The new confidential, 24-hour counselling service was launched by the English Football Association and the NSPCC after four retired players came forward to claim they had been abused as youth players.

Andy Woodward, Steve Walters and David White said they were victims of former youth coach and scout Barry Bennell, while Paul Stewart claimed he was abused by another youth coach. 

Meanwhile, Northumbria Police is investigating a claim that a former Newcastle United player was abused while playing with the club’s youth training scheme.

Rooney praised those who have already come forward saying it is “awful that some of my colleagues have suffered this way while playing the sport that I and they love.”

Former Crewe Alexandra, Bury and Sheffield United player Andy Woodward told Sky News that there are high-profile sports professionals who were abused as children that have yet to seek help.

"Andy has been really brave to come forward and I would encourage anyone who has or is suffering from abuse to call the NSPCC's new football helpline,” said Rooney.

"It's important that people know that it's okay to speak out, there is help available and that they don't need to suffer in silence."

The new helpline received more than 50 calls within two hours of coming online yesterday.

Mr Woodward’s initial interview with The Guardian encouraged more than 10 others to tell the Professional Footballers' Association that they too were abused.

"I know that there are more out there,” said Mr Woodward. “There is more high-profile people that are sat there thinking 'Can I or can't?'”

"You don't have to be named, you don't have to put yourself on the front of a newspaper, but you do need to get closure.

"But I do know they are out there. I encourage people to pick up the phone and ring and say, 'I was a victim'."

Manchester City has launched its own investigation into Barry Bennell, who worked at the club during the 1980s.

In 1998, Bennell received a nine-year sentence after admitting 23 charges of sexual offences, including buggery, against six boys aged nine to 15.

He had been arrested when he was deported following a four-year prison sentence in Florida for raping and indecently assaulting a 13-year-old British boy on a football tour.

Bennell was convicted for a third time for sexual abuse in 2015 and received a two-year sentence.

He is reported to have been released on licence.