A detective who was sexually abused as a child by convicted paedophile and former Crewe coach Barry Bennell has said the best thing he ever did was ‘speak up.’
Detective Constable Gary Cliffe is now urging victims to come forward as part of Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week.
He was on his way to making his dreams of becoming a professional footballer come true before his life was changed forever by a coach who took advantage of him between the ages of 11 and 15.
“I wanted to be a footballer and I was on my way. I was introduced to Bennell and the abuse started straight away,” said Gary.
Gary, who turns 50 this year, had signed up to Manchester City when he was just 14 and had hopes of all of his dreams coming true. But after years of abuse, he left the sport and spent years trying to process the horror of his childhood caused by Bennell before bravely speaking up and calling the police in 2015.
Gary, who has waived his right to anonymity, said: “The best thing I ever did was speaking up. For many, many years it was buried, especially for men. Men feel shame, embarrassment, peer pressure and worry what people think. However, it was like a tonne of bricks being lifted off my back.
“A lot of sexual abuse and sexual violence is tied up with coercive and controlling behaviour by the power of the perpetrator. By reporting it to police, it enables you to take back a little more power.
“I was on medication for over 20 years before I spoke up. I decided to report it in 2015 because I was getting older and I really didn’t want to be sat in later life when I was retired really regretting it. I wanted a conviction in my name so I set it off.
“It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’d say to anyone who is thinking about speaking up – it’s so helpful to have a network of family or trusted friends around you to support you.
“Sometimes the justice system can be very long and frustrating but it’s all worthwhile in the end if you get a conviction.”
Gary, who joined Staffordshire Police as a PC in Kidsgrove in 2002, now works as a detective in Staffordshire Police’s Child Protection and Exploitation Team based in Stoke-on-Trent.
He added: “The importance of talking is massive. Opening your mouth and talking can come across as a cliché but it’s true.
“People may think there’s a lot of barriers built up in your own mind but they’re not there. After I’d spoken up, the support was incredible – from everyone – my friends, family and the force.
“Speaking up got me the control back. When you’re a child and you grow up, you can’t put your head as a child on again. The easiest thing in the world is to keep your mouth shut than speak up so you can bury it and try and carry on.
“Not a day goes by I don’t think about what happened to me. Often children don’t speak up because they don’t have the vocabulary, they don’t know what’s going on and can’t stop the abuse.”
Gary added: “I was absolutely elated at the end of the trial after I’d heard he’d been found guilty. It was a long old journey but the satisfaction following the conviction is worthwhile. There’s a sense of taking control back.
"There are so many services on offer to people who have suffered sexual abuse – speaking up was the first step and the best thing I ever did.”
Anyone who is a victim of sexual abuse can call Staffordshire Police on 101 or 999, direct message Staffordshire Police on Facebook or Twitter or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
There are a range of services available to victims of sexual abuse. Staffordshire Victim Gateway is a free and confidential service that provides information, advice and support to all victims of crime in Staffordshire – even if it hasn’t been reported to the police. For more information, visit http://staffsvictimsgateway.org.uk/ or call 0330 0881 339.
For more information on sexual abuse and sexual violence awareness week, visit https://sexualabuseandsexualviolenceawarenessweek.org/.