The victims of predator Barry Bennell will receive a maximum £100,000 pay-out under Manchester City’s compensation scheme and have been told the club are not admitting blame by settling with them.
A ‘Survivors Scheme’ for players abused by Bennell and paedophile John Broome at City feeder clubs has been widely praised as the first of its kind set up by a club caught up in the abuse scandal.
But the Mail on Sunday is aware of disquiet from a number of abused former players over a £35,000 cap imposed by City for loss of earnings suffered by those whose fledgling careers were destroyed by repeated sexual abuse by Bennell and Broome.
The victims of predator Barry Bennell will receive a maximum £100,000 pay-out from Man City
City have told claimants in a ‘frequently asked questions’ document accompanying the scheme that the figures they pay out ‘will broadly mirror that which others would obtain via litigation’.
But Britain’s most experienced lawyer in player compensation cases has questioned that, telling the Mail on Sunday that the £35,000 figure — payable to a victim abused for six months who suffered ‘a serious impact’ in the labour market — is a fraction of the sum likely for victims who can prove that the abuse ended their career.
Jan Levinson, who has represented numerous players over more than 25 years, said: ‘For a young player who could establish that [because of] the abuse, he has lost the chance of a successful career as a professional footballer, a figure of £35,000 is nowhere near the likely maximum compensation that a court might award. I can’t see where this figure comes from.’
City sources indicated that they have not established a single case of an abuse victim being able to prove they would have made a career in football.
Bennell (top left) pictured during his time as a Manchester City youth coach
The club indicated that the scheme may not be for every player and that any who feel they could prove their career was destroyed are welcome to go through the courts.
Failing in a civil suit would not prevent a victim then returning to claim against City’s scheme.
One ex-youth player abused by Bennell said: ‘There are players who would certainly have played at a higher level with City if they had had the chance to develop. These players were simply lost because of the abuse that was inflicted on them. This £35,000 does not come close to the earnings I have lost.’
Levinson admitted that it may be challenging to prove that the abuse itself was the key factor.
‘There’s a lot that goes with establishing that,’ he said. ‘There might be a great many other reasons why a career was unsuccessful and obviously not every young player ultimately goes on to have success in the game.’
But he said that this did not preclude a former player’s legal team successfully demonstrating on the balance of probabilities that the individual might otherwise have made it, drawing on expert evidence, contemporaneous player appraisals from the time, video and former coaches.
Former coach Bennell is currently serving a 30-year prison sentence for his crimes
‘A youngster who was 10 in 1984, if successful, could have anticipated a professional career starting around the beginning of the Premier League era, continuing for some 17 years, with all the benefits and earnings that could have generated,’ he said.
Levinson represented Manchester United’s Ben Collett, who was awarded around £4.5m after a tackle in his first game for the club’s reserves ended his career. Sir Alex Ferguson and Gary Neville both testified on Collett’s potential, and Howard Wilkinson provided expert evidence.
The Mail on Sunday can reveal City will pay a maximum of £65,000 ‘general damages’ to players at 12 youth teams run by Bennell and Broome — taking the overall maximum cash pay-out to £100,000.
They will also contribute up to £4,000 for psychiatric and counselling costs and a maximum £17,000 towards legal fees.
The scheme will pay out £45,000 for a single incident of rape, £55,000 for multiple incidents over less than a year and £65,000 for multiple incidents continuing for more than a year.
There are two tiers of abuse. A single incident of ‘minor’ abuse such as ‘indecent touching over clothes/kiss/exposure’ would bring £5,000 compensation.
The club’s scheme literature does not guarantee an apology. The FAQ document states that once a claim is settled, ‘the club would welcome the opportunity to meet with you face to face and offer an appropriate explanation or apology’.
But though the phraseology of the legal document has been carefully chosen, club sources say an apology will be made and a meeting offered with an executive from the top of the club.
Though the document says the scheme is intended to be ‘inquisitorial’ rather than ‘adversarial’, City’s approach to any cases pursued through the courts is likely to be highly sensitive.
The club cannot rule out challenging some cases in court if they consider them to be opportunistic. The club tells prospective applicants to its scheme: ‘Payments . . . do not amount to an admission of liability by MCFC or a finding of liability against the club.’
Specialists in child abuse law have indicated that City’s figures are in line with other pay-outs in a non-football environment.
One local authority which was responsible for the regular persistent and regular abuse of a child in their care over 15 years, paid out £70,000 compensation and £20,000 for loss of earnings.
A LOST CAREER AT THE TOP LEVEL IS WORTH £10M, AND £35,000 DOES NOT REFLECT THAT
ANALYSIS BY IAN HERBERT
Manchester City’s determination to prevent those young footballers who suffered abuse at Barry Bennell’s hands from suffering further devastating experiences in the courts has perhaps not been fully appreciated.
The club waited months for approval from insurers to launch their compensation scheme but could not get an answer so went ahead anyway.
They will claim against the insurers further down the line. They will also pay out to a group of Bennell feeder clubs with which there is a far less distinct link than the now notorious Whitehill FC, which was City in everything but name.
But while the club’s modernity contrasts with Crewe Alexandra’s resolve to march victims through the adversarial judicial system, the great unknown — and possibly the area of great financial cost to clubs — lies in the realm of lost earnings.
Football is waiting to see if a player or players can demonstrate they were so traumatised by the systematic abuse inflicted upon them that they were deprived of a career in a game which was beginning to pay out very substantial wages by the early 1990s.
City say they want to ‘do the right thing’ by those abused, and to a large extent their ‘survivors’ scheme’ reflects that.
But an ex-player from one of the feeder clubs would have no inkling that he may be entitled to far more than City’s rather arbitrary figure of £35,000 — if he could demonstrate that a career had been denied him.
Bennell’s victims might have had careers between the mid-1980s — when the average annual pay for a First Division footballer was nearing £50,000 — to the late 2000s, when it had hit £1m in the Premier League.
If a former player could demonstrate the loss of a 15-year career from the early 1990s, lost earnings could total around £10m.
Proving that a youth player would have made it to the big time is not straightforward. But that does not mean it should not be explored.
‘The right thing’, where the small number who might fall into this category are concerned, would be the opportunity to apply to City’s scheme with the claim that they had been denied a career.
And for City to allow a group of independent adjudicators, with no connection with the club, to make that assessment.
Legal opinion is that there is no reason why a compensation scheme should not examine each player’s case on the basis of its own facts. And those who assess claims for City should have done no legal work for them in the present or past.
Most victims will be served very well by City’s decision to follow an increasing number of organisations — from News Group Newspapers to Lambeth Council — down the path of establishing a compensation scheme, when many have been clearly wronged.
Some who had no intention of pursuing a civil case will find themselves compensated. But the cost of one ruined career would surpass payments to the many.
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