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James Counsell QC and Ben Bradley secure first victory in Manchester City FC Child Abuse Litigation

James Counsell QC and Ben Bradley have successfully appeared on behalf of the Claimants in the high profile case of TVZ and Ors v Manchester City FC, which was widely reported, particularly on the back sports pages of the national press.

James and Ben currently represent eight Claimants, all of whom were abused by Barry Bennell. It is alleged that Bennell ran a number of youth ‘feeder teams’, which were connected to Manchester City FC and set up to feed young players into its schoolboy teams, once they reached the age of 14. The Defendant instructed solicitors and Leading Counsel to conduct an Inquiry into Bennell’s connections with the club (“the Inquiry”) and had set up a compensation scheme (known as the ‘Manchester City Survivors Scheme’), to compensate those who were abused by Bennell, as a result of them playing for one of the MCFC feeder teams.

The parties had asked for a High Court judge to determine various issues between them, in preparation for a 40 day trial, which is listed to commence in October 2021. Cavanagh J heard the applications over a period of two days; handing down a comprehensive judgment on 6th May 2021. Read this full judgment here. 

The judge was asked to determine five issues in total. The principal issue related to whether the Claimants could rely upon and put the terms of the Compensation Scheme in evidence at trial. As Cavanagh J noted, the Claimants seek to rely on the scheme, in part, because it “runs counter to the position that the Defendant has taken in this litigation, both in terms of the extent (if any) of the connection between the Defendant and the youth teams, and in terms of the period during which Bennell had a connection…with the Defendant.

Cavanagh J rejected the Defendant’s submissions to the effect that the scheme attracted without prejudice privilege. Such privilege could not exist inter alia given the terms of the scheme itself (which appeared to express offers and invite participants to join the Scheme on an open basis); and by virtue of the fact that the scheme was in the public domain. The judge also held that even if the Scheme had attracted privilege, such privilege had been waived given the way the Defendant advertised the existence of the scheme in the public domain.

The judge additionally decided two core issues relating to disclosure in the Claimants’ favour. He considered that contemporaneous documents handed by Scheme Applicants to the Scheme administrators were disclosable (insofar as they went to the issues in this current litigation). He rejected arguments put forward by the Defendant that such documents were precluded from disclosure either because disclosure would offend Data Protection principles and/or because the documents were not within the control of the Defendant.

The judge also held that the Defendant’s approach to disclosure generally had been deficient. Having agreed to provide disclosure of contemporaneous documents obtained as part of its Inquiry, the Defendant failed to disclose all relevant documents (including a video of Bennell coaching some of the youth feeder teams). The Defendant was ordered to carry out a further search and to provide a witness statement confirming that all relevant documents had been disclosed.

The parties continue to be in dispute as to whether the Inquiry in itself can be admitted in evidence at trial. Cavanagh J has deferred this issue for the trial judge to determine at the PTR.

A PTR in this matter will take place in August 2021; with the trial taking place in October 2021.

More about the story

Links to some of the recent press coverage appears below:

Find out more

James Counsell QC and Ben Bradley are regularly instructed (often together) on large, novel and high profile non-recent sex abuse claims. They are currently instructed in a number of high-profile cases being brought against Premiership and other professional football clubs which are listed for trial later this year and in early 2022.

Further details of their respective practices can be obtained from their clerks, Graham Woods and Paul Barton.

News, Personal Injury 8 Jul, 2021

Authors

James Counsell QC

Call: 1984 Silk: 2017

Ben Bradley

Call: 2007

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