Barry Bennell victim David Lean told police of hundreds more but 'no one listened'

The former Preston North End player came forward in 2013

Barry Bennell

Image: IRN

The police and Crown Prosecution Service were warned by one of Barry Bennell's earliest victims more than three years ago that the paedophile football coach could have preyed on hundreds of boys.

David Lean, a former Preston North End reserve team player, was abused by Bennell in 1980, but after 30 years of silence came forward in 2013 with evidence that led to him being sentenced to two years' imprisonment in 2015.

Waiving his anonymity and speaking publicly for the first time, Mr Lean told Sky News that his case was initially rejected by the CPS, and when he warned the authorities Bennell could have hundreds of victims "no one wanted to listen".

"I told them there could be hundreds more," he said. "At this stage now I know there are hundreds more. Because of my accounts, the way he was with me within seconds of the door shutting [behind me] in April 1980, and he wasn't stopped until 1994-95 in America. 

"He was running junior football teams and working in a children's home. There was always going to be more. Many, many, many, many more and I told them. I had already told the police that there were hundreds, and no-one wanted to listen."

Bennell was first jailed in the USA in 1994 for assaulting a British boy on a football tour, and in 1998 was sentenced to nine years in jail in the UK for the sexual assault of six boys.

Because he was abused in the period covered by the UK trial, the CPS told Mr Lean it was unlikely his evidence would have made any difference even if he had come forward in 1998.

He appealed to the Child Sexual Abuse Review Panel against the CPS decision not to prosecute in the summer of 2013 and it found in his favour, ordering the police to charge Bennell.

Former football coach Barry Bennell pictured in an undated photo. Many former footballers have come forward to police in the wake of revelations about sexual abuse. Image: PA / PA Wire/PA Images

The decision led to a change in the guidance to prosecutors in relation to historical child sexual abuse, with cases involving children of 12 or under pursued even if they may only bring a short sentence.

In April 2015, the day before he was due to go on trial, Bennell pleaded guilty to two counts of indecent assault on a male under the age of 14, and two counts of enticing a boy under the age of 14 to commit an act of gross indecency.

He was sentenced to two years in jail, but when Mr Lean came to court to read a victim's impact statement, he was led into the same room as his abuser, despite requesting anonymity.

"He was sat right in front of me, two yards away from me. The only people in that passageway were me and him. I never wanted to see him again in my life and now I have his face, his current appearance, there all the time.

"This is a man that groomed me for seven months, that abused me for two nights and the implications and the after-effects have gone on throughout my life."

Mr Lean's account of abuse and his two-and-a-half-year fight for justice comes after several footballers spoke publicly about abuse by Bennell and other unnamed coaches, raising concerns that a paedophile ring was operating in English football in the 1980s and 1990s.

Now a manager in the leisure industry, Mr Lean played for Preston reserves for three years and youth football against others who have gone public with claims of abuse, including England forwards David White and Paul Stewart.

But his encounter with Bennell pre-dates many of these victims and sheds light on how his abuser was able to manipulate young victims and scare them into silence.

Mr Lean, now 48, was just 11 when he met the coach in 1979 on a family trip to a holiday camp at Pwllheli, north Wales, where Bennell ran a football course. 

He says he was "in awe" of the coach, and persuaded the family to return later in the year for a second course, where Bennell awarded him with the 'Boy of the Week' prize.

Bennell went on to groom him, writing letters for seven months before Mr Lean agreed with his parents' consent to attend a coaching course in Macclesfield. He would stay at Bennell's house.

Over two nights at the coach's home he was abused, but Mr Lean did not tell his parents, thinking he would never see Bennell again. A month later, however, he returned home from school to find his abuser talking to his mother.

"My mum said, 'Why don't you take Barry up to your bedroom and show him your trophies?' That was really, really hard, I was really, really proud of my collection and it was a normal thing for my mum to have said. 

"As I tried to get out of the room as fast as I could he stood in the doorway … he looked at me straight in the face and said, 'Don't worry, I won't tell your mum what you did to me.'"

That encounter scared Mr Lean into silence and he told no-one what happened until more than 30 years later, following the death of his mother.

He approached the police and was so determined to ensure his case was heard that he did not tell his father, who dropped and collected him from Bennell's house and was therefore the only witness, in case it affected the evidence.

He said he was distraught when the CPS made the original decision not to prosecute.

"They said there was enough evidence but they didn't feel it was in the public interest to take it forward. I couldn't understand it. It could have killed my father that day, when the police woman turned up to interview him. 

"I'd told my brothers, my partner, and my step-dad. For what? For some person to say that I'm not in the public interest. It rips your heart out."

Mr Lean said he decided to speak out now having seen former player Andy Woodward talk about his abuse in the media.

While he is angered that it took professional footballers for the public and the authorities to pay attention, he hopes it may encourage others to come forward.

"I am angry because I started this process and no one listened to me, and a footballer comes forward and everybody listens. 

"But at the same time I am ecstatic he [Bennell] is going to get what he deserved, and everyone who comes forward is being very, very brave. 

"Hopefully it won't just be in football, hopefully anyone who has been abused out there will feel the strength and understand the public interest is going to be in their favour now."

The Crown Prosecution Service said: "In May 2015 Bennell was sentenced to two years for indecent assault on a male aged under 14 years and indecency.

"Following receipt of a file from Cheshire Police, the original decision was not to charge as the public interest test was felt not to have been met. The victim applied for that decision to be reconsidered and following a review it was overturned and Bennell was charged."

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, you can contact 'One in Four', a charity providing support and resources for people who have experienced sexual abuse and violence in Ireland.

  • Call on 01 6624070, Monday – Friday 9.30 to 5.30pm 
  • Email using [email protected]
  • Send a letter to 2 Holles St, Dublin 2, D02 FP40