Crewe: Club were unaware of Barry Bennell abuse until 1994

Crewe Alexandra have again said nobody at the club was aware of Barry Bennell's abuse of young players until their former youth coach was convicted of sexual assault in Florida in 1994.

In their longest statement since the abuse scandal broke in November 2016, the League Two club have addressed three specific issues related to Bennell, who received his fourth conviction for historic offences last month, for the first time.

The most serious is an allegation from ex-Crewe director Hamilton Smith that he made the other board members aware of a complaint he had received from a parent about Bennell abusing a boy.

Smith had told the BBC and Guardian it was decided that boys should not be allowed to stay overnight with Bennell, as had been happening for several years, and no further action was taken.

The club have previously denied that this warning ever came from Smith or that this course of action was taken -- a claim Smith has dismissed, calling the club's long-time chairman John Bowler a liar.

In Friday's new statement, only the third issued by the club in relation to Bennell, Crewe said they were "aware" of Smith's allegation that he reported a complaint to the board "in or about 1988."

Crewe said every "available member" of the board at this time has been interviewed by Cheshire Police and "each and every individual," including then-manager Dario Gradi, has denied "any recollection" of Smith raising a complaint about Bennell.

The club claim there is no reference to Smith doing so in "contemporaneous board minutes," all of which have been released to the police.

"Despite Mr Smith's allegations that he raised his knowledge of Mr Bennell's offending to board members in 1988, including to Mr Bowler, the board minutes show that Mr Smith still proceeded to nominate Mr Bowler to be chairman of the club in both 1988 and 1989," the statement said.

The club goes further, though, by noting that Smith has "apparently admitted" to being aware of Bennell's offending in 1988 but did not report that to the FA until 2001 or the police until 2016.

It adds: "Mr Smith was specifically interviewed by the police as part of their thorough investigation into the club. Despite Mr Smith's evidence, the police were still able to conclude that there was no evidence to corroborate that the club was aware of Mr Bennell's offending."

The statement also responds to two more recent revelations concerning Bennell.

The first is a letter from Gradi, who is currently suspended by the Football Association but remains Crewe's director of football and a board member, to parents following Bennell's dismissal in 1992 which advised them to have nothing to do with their former coach.

Crewe claimed this warning was not related to any concerns about abuse but was intended to stop Bennell poaching players for other clubs.

"The reason for this letter being written was simply because the club and Mr Gradi did not want to potentially lose any promising young players to a team coached by Mr Bennell," it said.

The second issue addressed is the character reference Gradi wrote for Bennell when he was arrested for the first time on a football tour in Florida in 1994.

Crewe acknowledge that Gradi did this but points out that 57 other individuals did too, and Gradi had done so at the request of Bennell's then wife.