The ex-youth football coach at the centre of a sex abuse scandal has been taken to hospital after being found unconscious, in what police called a “fear for welfare” incident.
Barry Bennell, a convicted child abuser, was found at an address in Knebworth Park, Stevenage on Friday, Thames Valley Police said. He remains in hospital.
It comes as Greater Manchester Police (GMP) joined the Metropolitan Police and the FA in investigating the growing scandal, which was sparked when an ex-player spoke out about the abuse he suffered at the hands of Bennell.
As many as seven professional football clubs are now embroiled in claims of historical abuse, with more than 20 ex-players alleging they were victims, the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) has said. Five police forces are now investigating.
A Thames Valley Police statement said:
“Police officers attended an address in Knebworth Park, Stevenage, just before 11pm on Friday November 25 in connection with a fear for welfare incident.
“A 62-year-old man was located and was taken to hospital in order to receive medical treatment, where he remains.
“At this stage of inquiries, it would be inappropriate to comment further.”
GMP Assistant Chief Constable Debbie Ford said:
“Following recent media coverage, Greater Manchester Police has received a number of calls from people reporting historic sexual abuse whilst they were in the youth football system.
“We have now launched an investigation and our specially trained officers are supporting those who have come forward so far.
“We are co-ordinating our investigation with forces nationally and with Operation Hydrant, the national co-ordination hub for historic child abuse investigations concerning persons of public prominence.
“I would encourage anyone who was a victim of sexual or physical abuse to come forward and speak to us as soon as possible.
“I completely understand that for many people, making disclosures about such traumatic events can be difficult, but we will offer advice and support throughout.”
Andy Woodward became the first to speak out last week about abuse he suffered at the hands of Bennell, a former Crewe Alexandra coach.
Bennell, who worked for Crewe, Manchester City, Stoke and junior teams in north-west England and the Midlands, abused young boys from the 1970s onwards. He was jailed for four years for raping a British boy on a 1994 football tour of Florida, and given a nine-year sentence for 23 offences against six boys in England in 1998.
He was jailed for a third time in 2015 after admitting abusing a boy at a 1980 football camp in Macclesfield.
Those to have made allegations against Bennell include former Manchester City star David White and youth player Jason Dunford, plus ex-Crewe player Steve Walters and youngster Chris Unsworth.
Anthony Hughes, who represented England at the 1993 World Youth Championships, became the latest player to make allegations against the coach on Sunday.
Former England international Paul Stewart has also spoken out about being sexually abused by a coach as a child.
The Guardian reported that an unnamed former Newcastle United player had also contacted police with allegations against George Ormond, a north-east coach jailed for six years in 2002 for carrying out numerous assaults spanning 24 years.
The Premier League said it is “very concerned” by the allegations.
The Metropolitan Police and forces in Hampshire, Northumbria and Cheshire said they are investigating abuse allegations.
Crewe Alexandra has said it will launch an independent review of the way it dealt with historical child abuse allegations, after former board member Hamilton Smith said Bennell was allowed to stay on at the club despite concerns about his conduct.
Newcastle United, Blackpool and Leeds United said they had not yet been made aware of allegations but would cooperate fully if they received further information and Manchester City said it is reviewing Bennell’s links with the club.
Operation Hydrant, which oversees the investigation of allegations of historical child sex abuse within institutions or by people of public prominence, is trying to pinpoint the scale of the alleged abuse.
It has contacted all forces in England and Wales asking them to forward details of the allegations they have received following the recent publicity.