English Premier League giants Chelsea could face a multi-million pound law suit for damages over sex abuse perpetrated by a former scout decades ago, the Mail on Sunday reported.
The newspaper claims the number of former players to have come forward, alleging abuse by the late Eddie Heath, has doubled to six in just a week with the majority being from his time at Chelsea.
Chelsea’s present owner Roman Abramovich – who bought the club years after the alleged crimes were carried out – sanctioned a £50,000 payout ($63,850) to one of the players Gary Johnson in 2015 provided he didn’t go public about it.
The latter measure earned Chelsea a raft of criticism prompting them to issue a statement apologising profusely to Johnson and explaining the gagging order was ‘inappropriate’ but had been included based on legal advice as it is considered normal in such agreements.
Johnson, though, broke his silence once the slew of allegations regarding other clubs emerged last month and is demanding more in the way of compensation from the club – they have also admitted they were alerted to other cases like Johnson’s but took it no further.
However, the Guardian and the BBC revealed later on Sunday former Chelsea assistant manager Dario Gradi has been suspended from his functions as director of football at Crewe Alexandra another club heavily mired in the abuse scandal.
The 75-year-old, who has been at Crewe since 1983, is alleged to have gone round to a Chelsea youth player’s house in 1974 and persuaded him and his parents not to take an abuse allegation against Heath further.
“He (Gradi) came to visit my parents and me to smooth it over,” the former youth player told The Independent news website on December 2.
“I remember him saying something like: ‘(With) Eddie, (football) is his life and he gets a bit close to the boys. I’m sorry if he’s overstepped the mark in his fondness this time.'”
Gradi, who will be interviewed by the FA as part of their review into the scandal and who knew what, has denied any wrongdoing issuing a statement last Friday.
“Suffice to say, I will do everything within my power to assist all investigatory authorities into what is becoming a wide-ranging and important enquiry into historical sexual abuse,” said the Italy-born Gradi.
Chelsea are just one of 98 clubs from all levels the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) has said have been ‘impacted’ by the scandal with around 350 victims and 83 people identified as potential suspects.
This does not include the two to have been charged.
Former Crewe Alexandra youth coach Barry Bennell, who has served three jail terms for sex abuse, has been charged with eight counts of sex abuse.
Former Celtic coach and kitman Jim McCafferty, who has admitted he attacked four players during his time in Scotland and was coming forward to ‘cleanse his soul’, gave himself up to Northern Irish police earlier this week has been charged with a non-football linked offence in Ulster.
Whilst Chelsea have launched their own internal review – just as English football’s governing body the Football Association (FA) has done with regard to what previous regimes knew about the rumours and claims – more former youth players told the Mail on Sunday Heath was a well known predator.
Richard Wilson, who became a detective in child protection in the Kent Police force, told the newspaper Heath, who died in 1983 aged 54 but had moved on to Charlton Athletic after he was fired by then manager Geoff Hurst in 1979 for spending more time decorating his office than scouting, behaved like a ‘kid in a sweet shop’ as he urged the youth players to play pool and table tennis in his ‘pre-fabricated pavilion’.
“Looking back it was part of the grooming process,” said Wilson. “He never touched me, but Eddie enjoyed the perfect conditions to prey on boys.”