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Barry Bennell inquiry 'largest Cheshire has ever seen'

Ten full time officers and staff are still working on the case

The scale of abuse committed by serial-paedophile and former football coach Barry Bennell would “not be allowed” now, a Cheshire Detective Inspector has said.

Today (Thursday) Bennell was found guilty at Liverpool Crown Court of 43 counts of child sexual abuse against 11 victims.

It is understood the total number of victims assaulted by Bennell could exceed 100 after 86 more people came forward to report abuse following publicity about the case.

During the course of his trial, he was described as a "child molester on an industrial scale" who would not just groom his victims, but also their families.

Victims who had been coached by Bennell as boys told how he had a "power hold" over them as they dreamed of becoming professional footballers.

He was said to have been treated like "God" at Manchester City's Maine Road ground.

Cheshire Detective Inspector Sarah Oliver said the inquiry into Bennell remains ongoing, with 10 full time members of staff and officers dedicated to the case.

At its peak, 25 detectives were allocated to the investigation which encompassed interviews with over 2,000 people, 500 statements and 30 interviews with Bennell since November 2016.

“It is absolutely enormous. For somebody to have offended over 20 years, for the number of, simply, documents that we've had to process, in excess of 3,500, the number of statements that have been taken, 550 plus, it is an enormous inquiry.

“Certainly the largest Cheshire has seen of its kind and I'm quite sure it's up there nationally as one of the largest inquiries,” she said.

Cheshire Constabulary are now working on Bennell alone, she said. Although the force considered whether other individuals were involved, it is “satisfied” this wasn’t the case.

When asked whether there are any lessons to be learned from this case she responded:

“I think, to be fair, our processes and our understanding of how people operate as sex offenders is so far from what it was back then.

“I'm really confident that the processes we have now in place to monitor people who are working with children who are accessing young people, I'm really confident those processes are good and I think as parents as well a lot of people now wouldn't allow that to happen. We just have a much, much greater understanding.

“I think, unfortunately, there's always going to be people who commit offences against children, all we can ask is that people are vigilant to that.”

Det Insp Oliver also spoke of the “trauma” Bennell’s victims faced as they gave evidence against him.

“For some of them they haven't told anybody. They haven't told their wives, they haven't told their children, and to expose themselves in that way to how they've been treated has been exceptionally difficult for them.

“What we've seen with the guys we've spoken to is that they still actually like him as an individual. They will all acknowledge that he was a good coach, he had skills ahead of his time, that he had offered them a great lifestyle with games machines and it was just an exciting place to be.

“We heard in court about being given KFC takeaways which back in the '80s were a bit of a treat. So that was what was on offer to them and he just abused that with them, appallingly.

“He's definitely left these guys with a sense of trauma and when we were in court you could hear them talking almost like that 11-year-old boy again and with so many of them the big issue for them is that they just want him to say sorry.”

Former Crewe players Andy Woodward’s decision to waive his anonymity and give emotional interviews about his abuse inspired a “wave” of people to come forwards, DI Oliver said.

“They obviously saw individuals in the press and the media who they felt they could relate to and it enabled them to come forward and say 'Actually, this has happened to me'.

“They've [the victims] taken a real leap of faith coming forward.

“It's been a huge, huge decision for them and there are those as well that have waived anonymity and I have to say all credit to them because I think through that other people have felt empowered to come forward and report what happened.

“It's been enormous for them and this verdict is a real vindication for what they've done.”

Bennell will be sentenced on Monday.