Hamilton Smith, a former director of football at Crewe Alexandra, has said that convicted paedophile ex-coach Barry Bennell was kept on at the club despite growing concerns about his behaviour. Smith says Bennell was the subject of a board meeting at Crewe — the club at the centre of the child sex abuse in football scandal — in which then-chairman Norman Rowlinson recommended they "get him out".
Smith served on the board at Crewe between 1986 and 1990 and told The Guardian he asked for a meeting with colleagues at the club after it was alleged by someone during a junior football match that their friend's son had been abused by Bennell. Though members of the board discussed finding a new youth-team coach, it was ultimately decided Bennell would stay on – but that he should not be left alone with the young players nor should overnight stays be allowed.
Smith told the Guardian: "I'm incredibly angry the club continue to refute that they knew anything about suspicions of Bennell's activities.
"This was discussed at the club's top level and, as much as I tried to resolve this, regrettably I couldn't. I dread to think how many victims there are, and my heart goes out to them."
Bennell was eventually arrested for raping a British boy, after he had been sacked by Crewe, while on tour in the US. He faced a three-year jail sentence in 1994 for the crime, and was convicted of more charges in the UK in 1998, for which he was sentenced to nine years in prison. He was convicted again in 2015 of two counts of indecent assault and two counts of eliciting a boy under the age of 14 to commit an act of gross indecency.
Since several players have come forward in the last fortnight alleging further assaults by Bennell – as well as other unnamed coaches – Crewe chairman John Bowler issued a statement which read: "When things come out of the blue like this, you first want to make inquiries and reflect from within. That is the process we started last week."
However, Smith was adamant that the club had prior knowledge of allegations made against Bennell, and said: "I'm incredibly angry the club continue to refute that they knew anything about suspicions of Bennell's activities. This was discussed at the club's top level and, as much as I tried to resolve this, regrettably I couldn't."
Though it was not just the club that failed to act on suspicions around Bennell's behaviour. Smith says that he raised the issue with local MP Gwyneth Dunwoody on several occasions as well as the FA. After asking the FA's head of child protection to investigate the issue of child protection at the club in 2001, the FA responded saying that they had "investigated the issues and is satisfied that there is no case to answer".
Echoing sentiments expressed by a number of members of the footballing community, Smith added: "I dread to think how many victims there are, and my heart goes out to them."
In total, six former footballers have come forward to speak out about historic abuse they endured. Andy Woodward, Steve Walker, Jason Dunsford and Chris Unsworth, who were members of Crewe's youth team, as well as former Manchester City player David White, who all say they were abused by Bennell. Paul Stewart – who also played at Manchester City, a club with which Bennell had links – also says he was abused by an unnamed coach.
On Thursday the head of player welfare at the Professional Footballers Association told Sky this could be "the tip of the iceberg", as it was reported more than 50 calls had been made to an NSPCC specialist helpline.
•The NSPCC's dedicated hotline can be contacted on 0800 023 2642.