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English ex-soccer coach convicted of 43 sex-abuse charges

LIVERPOOL, England (AP) — Barry Bennell shook his head and muttered to himself as the final guilty verdicts were read out, seemingly unrepentant until the end. In a harrowing court case lasting nearly five weeks, the former soccer coach had forced a group of men to detail the sexual abuse they suffered as boys — then aspiring players — while in his supposed care and had to live with through adulthood.

Decades later, and now aged 64, Bennell was being made to pay for crimes that have sent shockwaves through British soccer. Still, though, he was in denial. Hushed cries of "yes" came from the public gallery where six of the victims sat with family members, as an 11-person jury returned guilty verdicts on Thursday to the remaining seven sex charges brought against Bennell by a complainant.

He was found guilty on Tuesday of 36 charges of sex abuse against 10 complainants. Before the trial started, he pleaded guilty to seven charges of indecent assault involving three boys but denied the remainder.

Bennell will be sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court on Monday. He appeared in court via video-link for the trial, but has been ordered to attend sentencing in person. "For decades, we held our silence, just like our abuser told us," Micky Fallon, one of the victims, said outside court.

"For decades we lived in fear ... Today, the stolen voices of a generation have been heard." Having waived his right to anonymity, Fallon was standing alongside two other victims, Steven Walters and Chris Unsworth, and their partners outside court. He occasionally stopped to take a breath as he read out a prepared statement.

"We are no longer afraid of you, Barry Bennell," Fallon said, breaking into a half-smile. The abuse took place during Bennell's time working for northwest clubs Manchester City and Crewe Alexandra, among others, from 1979 to 1990.

Boys coached by Bennell told the trial how he had a power-hold over them as they dreamed of becoming professional players. They were abused at Bennell's home — described by one complainant as a "paradise" for young boys, with a pool table, fruit machine, big televisions and unusual pets — as well as on the way to matches and in changing rooms.

The prosecution said Bennell was a "child molester on an industrial scale." He groomed not only the young players but their families, convincing parents that their boys were safe in his care. "For years, hundreds and hundreds of us were groomed in plain view, lavished with gifts and designer sports gear and taken on trips all round the world," Walters said outside court.

"How can it be that no one realized something was wrong? How was it that no one protected us? "We suffered because of a disgusting predator, but we also suffered sometimes because the sport we love decided that the reputation of a coach, a club or a sport was put above the protection of children."

Man City offered its "heartfelt sympathy to all victims for the unimaginably traumatic experiences they have endured." "All victims," City said in a statement, "were entitled to expect full protection from the kind of harm they endured."

City said it has investigated whether the club facilitated sexual abuse of children, and it identified serious allegations against two people: One of them was Bennell, the other was deceased. Crewe, which employed Bennell for two periods between January 1985 and January 1992, also expressed sympathy but said it was "not aware of any sexual abuse by Mr. Bennell, nor did it receive any complaint about sexual abuse by him, either before or during his employment with the club."

Also in court Thursday was Andy Woodward, a former footballer whose decision to speak out in November 2016 about abuse he suffered at the hands of Bennell led to the trial and sparked many other players to break their silence.

According to the most recent figures issued by a specialist police unit investigating non-recent child sexual abuse in British soccer, 294 alleged suspects have been identified and the number of victims stands at 839, ranging from age 4 to 20.

An emotional Woodward praised the courage of the men who had come forward and said football clubs and authorities needed to be accountable for allowing men like Bennell to operate within the game. The Football Association, English soccer's governing body, is overseeing an independent inquiry into historical sex abuse in the game. The inquiry is due to report its findings in the coming months.

Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

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