Football’s child sex abuse scandal: Abuse survivor welcomes Crewe chairman’s resignation


Steve Walters first spoke out in 2016 about being being sexually abused by Barry BennellEx-Crewe Alexandra player Steve Walters has welcomed the resignation of the club’s chairman John Bowler, saying his departure on Thursday means abuse survivors can finally move on.

Bowler resigned following the publication of the Sheldon report into historical sexual abuse in football.

The report criticised Crewe for not doing more to prevent the crimes by their former coach Barry Bennell.

“We can all move on now thankfully,” Walters said.

Bowler, 84, had been chairman of Crewe since 1987, having first joined the board in 1980.

“As the only person left with an association to that era, I truly believe it was important for me to see it through to conclusion,” he said in a resignation statement, in which he apologised to victims.

The club has also apologised and stressed it was unaware of the abuse until Bennell received a conviction in 1994.

Bennell is serving a 34-year jail term for abusing boys between 1979 and 1991 while at Crewe and Manchester City.

Speaking to BBC sports editor Dan Roan, Walters added: “The fact that was the last part of the jigsaw, that he was there back then, we needed that for our own wellbeing so that we could move forwards.

“Now that he has finally gone, albeit too late, it is at least done now.”

Walters and other abuse survivors spoke about their experiences in the BBC documentary Football’s Darkest Secret, which aired earlier this week.

While he said the response to the programme has been “outstanding”, he says he has found the days since the Sheldon report was published on 17 March very difficult.

In his role as director of the Offside Trust, which helps victims of sexual abuse, he says he has been helping to support other abuse survivors since the report’s publication.

“It has been awful,” he added.

“I have personally come off social media for my own wellbeing because there is so much going on – a 700-odd page document to read in such a short space of time was a lot to digest.

“With the Offside Trust we have been supporting other survivors involved in different cases as well so it has been a very difficult journey, especially in the last week or so.”

Walters also called on the FA to explain why former Crewe manager Dario Gradi was suspended in 2016.

FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said on 17 March that Gradi was “effectively banned for life” from football, but could not go into the reasons. The FA’s director of legal and governance, Polly Handford, then said it was “for safeguarding reasons” but that was “as far as we can go”.

Gradi claimed he was banned “from certain specified activities with players under the age of 18 years”.

“It feels like we’re being cheated again, it’s so frustrating. Just come out and tell us why he’s banned,” said Walters.

Sheldon said that Gradi, who has always denied wrongdoing, “should have done more” to investigate concerns about Bennell, but added he was not involved in a cover-up. Gradi then apologised for “not recognising signs of abuse” carried out at the club by the paedophile.

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