Eight men are preparing for a High Court trial after suing Manchester City for damages as a result of being abused by former scout Barry Bennell more than 30 years ago when they were boys.

A judge oversaw a preliminary hearing online on Thursday and was told Bennell, who has been convicted of sex abuse offences and is serving a jail term, might give evidence.

Mr Justice Cavanagh was told Manchester City denies being “vicariously liable” for abuse committed by Bennell, who is now in his 60s and also worked as a coach at Crewe Alexandra.

Barry Bennell Manchester City v Crystal Palace – Premier League – Etihad Stadiu
Manchester City denies being ‘vicariously liable’ for the abuse (Nick Potts/PA)

A barrister representing the men said Manchester City had “apparently taken the extraordinary decision to call” Bennell, “presumably intending to put him forward as a witness of truth”.

James Counsell QC said the men, who are now in their 40s and 50s, claim Bennell was working for Manchester City when they were abused.

He said they want damages for “personal injury, loss and damage” caused by abuse committed by Bennell when they were aged between about eight and 16.

Mr Counsell said Bennell had worked as a Manchester City scout and coached and managed “feeder teams” for which the men had played, when boys, between 1979 and 1985.

A trial is listed to be heard by another judge over eight weeks, starting on October 25.

Bennell has been convicted, on five separate occasions – four in the UK and one in the USA – of sexual offences against young boys and is currently serving a 34-year prison sentence, Mr Counsell said.

He said Bennell had been convicted of offences against the men involved.

Mr Counsell told Mr Justice Cavanagh: “The defendant has apparently taken the extraordinary decision to call Mr Bennell, presumably intending to put him forward as a witness of truth, despite the fact that he has repeatedly pleaded not guilty but been convicted of numerous sexual offences… many on these claimants.”

He told the judge that Bennell had said, in a statement made in connection with the litigation, he ended his links with Manchester City in about 1979.

“The claimants’ case is that Mr Bennell was working for the defendant (Manchester City) throughout the whole period spanning the abuse,” Mr Counsell told the judge in a written case outline.

“He worked as a scout for the defendant and coached and managed feeder teams for which these boys played, as a means by which the defendant was provided with a steady source of highly talented young footballers who were then of an age (under 14) when they could not be formally signed up.

“Each of the claimants was sexually and emotionally abused by Mr Bennell, some repeatedly for very many times over the course of a number of years.

“Each suffered very serious psychiatric injuries as a result and each has continued throughout their adult lives to suffer from the effects of those injuries.

“Each claims damages for those injuries and for the consequential losses which have flowed from them, including, in all but one case, damages for the loss of a chance to pursue a career as a footballer.”

Mr Justice Cavanagh said the men could not be identified in media reports of the case.

A barrister representing Manchester City told the judge that lawyers representing the men had served statements from 60 witnesses.

Michael Kent QC said more than 30 of those witnesses, including the eight men, had provided descriptions “from their own recollection” of various junior teams coached by 67-year-old Bennell.