Evening - hope you're doing well.
The case of Barry Bennell that has been going on for the last 18 months or so was not exactly a new one. Some of you might remember the Dispatches episode from the late 1990s, during which many of his crimes against young footballers were well documented. It was pretty grim viewing at the time and no less so when I re-visited it on YouTube last year - it's called 'Soccer's Foul Play' if you want to watch it, but I should stress that the subject matter is less than pleasant and viewer discretion very much advised. It was the revelations of Andy Woodward, a former Crewe player back in 2016 that led to further complaints against Bennell and ultimately his convictions this week.
A proclivity for young boys, allied to what seemed a total lack of impulse control and a complete disregard for the damage done to his victims means that it should be a cause for relief more than anything else that Bennell will spend at least the next 15 years behind bars and probably die in prison. Excellent. There can also be no doubt whatsoever that Bennell made the choice he did to go into youth coaching for a very specific and unhealthy reason - just as other perpetrators of similar crimes deliberately seek to become priests or teachers to get access to vulnerable youngsters, Bennell saw a chance to get into the 'position of maximum oppotunity' and took it, with tragic results.
I'll make two observations about the court case of the last fortnight or so, one of which some of you may find easier to digest than the other. The first point is that what Bennell has been convicted of may represent but a fraction of his overall tally of victims. One can only hope that those who have not been given direct restitution in the courts can take some comfort in their assailant's imprisonment. Perhaps a more troubling statement to make is that in amongst the genuine victims of crime (some of whom finally got their day in court), there will almost certainly be fakers, liars, attention-seekers and failed former footballers hopping onto something of a bandwagon. Unfortunate but true.
Speaking of attention-seekers, the judge's comments in sentencing smacked of fame-seeking, attempting to get into the newspapers and make himself the story rather than calmly and dispassionately dispensing justice, which is what what any judge should be striving to do. Referring to the convicted as "the devil incarnate" was surely irresponsible and (whether you believe in our dark overlord or not) factually incorrect? I wouldn't dare suggest that Bennell wasn't a bad bastard who made a decision in his mind that his own desires were worth more than the harm caused to other people - but to foolishly suggest that "Lucifer made him do it" actually trivialises his crimes.
Another comment that caught my attention came from a neighbour of Bennell (who has legally changed his name to Richard Jones for reasons that should be fairly obvious). Upon discovering his previous crimes this neighbour was astonished and felt somewhat misled, stating "I had absolutely no idea he was a paedophile, he told me he was a software engineer". Now this strikes me as what my good mate Chris Coey might refer to as a 'dissociative biscuit', the blurring of two wholly unrelated statements into some fucked-up montage of randomness. I allowed myself a guilty/bad taste laugh at the assertion that 'paedophile' and 'software engineer' were somehow mutually exclusive.
But perhaps I shouldn't have done - far from being funny this is actually central to the obsession that many working class (and indeed underclass) people have with the perpetration of crimes by adults against children. As I've stated previously when you're living in a trailer and eating crab paste sandwiches for dinner it's always handy to scrape around the very bottom of the food chain and find someone to make you feel good about yourself. Sadly this, and not a genuine concern for child welfare, is what a lot of the council estate hysteria about paedophiles is actually about. After all, the same people usually feed their own kids shit so they can afford more booze and fags for themselves.
I wrote only a couple of weeks ago about the phenomenon of self-appointed internet paedophile hunters. Now I'm not disputing that there are people who go online with the explicit intention of grooming and/or getting 'involved' with people who they know are underage and that is both absolutely wrong and highly illegal. However, this concept of the 'cybernonce' appears to be the 21st century equivalent of the creepy old man dangling bags of sweets out of his car window or hovering around parks late at night wearing nothing but a trenchcoat. A comfortingly inhuman stereotype of would-be perpetrators maybe, but painfully unrepresentative of reality.
Cases like that of Barry Bennell are a far more likely and true 'face' of this type of crime, even if that is the polar opposite of what makes some feel good about themselves. Precisely what makes the Bennell case and others like it as upsetting as they are is that he did not walk around with horns tucked behind his ears or the word 'NONCE' tattooed in large red letters across his forehead. Far from being a deadbeat or loser he had a life on the surface (first playing and then coaching football) that many thousands of other people envied and/or aspired to. Like a multitude of sociopathic criminals before him, Bennell wore a convincing mask of normality as a means of hiding in plain sight.
So...as dreadful as such crimes are, I'm interested in measures going forward that seek to prevent offending (or indeed re-offending) rather than giving a handful of louts down a backstreet boozer someone to feel superior to. Given that no mentally stable adult would ever 'choose' to be attracted to kids, do we offer some sort of help and support to those who identify that they have 'a problem' in this area and an express wish not to follow that up with criminal behaviour - much as we might with, say, somebody who admits to being dependent on drugs and wants to get clean? I appreciate that won't go down well in said backstreet boozer, but I'm open to ideas if you have any.
What I do know is that we need to reject the comfort of evil on this matter, as difficult as it might be, and deal in reality.
Anyway, I appreciate that may have been heavy going for some of you - I owe you all something a bit lighter in the very near future.
No music video with this one, it doesn't seem appropriate.
Many thanks again and I'll see you at the weekend - take care.