Chelsea have issued a statement apologising ‘unreservedly’ after an external report found that young players had been targeted by a ‘prolific and manipulative sexual abuser’ for a number of years.
The report also revealed that the abuser, former chief scout Eddie Heath, had been allowed to operate ‘unchallenged’ throughout the 1970s, with more than 25 victims uncovered during the investigation.
In a statement on the club’s official website, the club declared: “The Board of Directors of Chelsea FC plc is today publishing the completed external reviews of non-recent child sexual and racial abuse at the Club.
“The Board wishes to thank all the survivors and witnesses who came forward to assist the reviews and the Club apologises unreservedly for the terrible past experiences of some of our former players.
“Following the disclosures of non-recent child sexual abuse perpetrated at the Club in the 1970s, we set out our intention to do the right thing – to fully support those affected and carry out an exhaustive investigation into what occurred to ensure that abhorrent abuse like this can never happen again.
“Two-and-a-half years on, the external review team, led by Charles Geekie QC, a barrister specialising in child protection, has conducted more than a hundred witness interviews and reviewed thousands of pages of evidence.
“Although the Club today is a very different place from the Club then, with new ownership, operational structures and safeguarding procedures in place, we will not shy away from responsibility for what happened in the past. The intention of the review was to shine a bright light in the dark corners of the Club’s history so that we can learn lessons to help protect the players of the future.
“We also have no desire to hide any non-recent abuse we uncover.”
The review was led by Charles Geekie QC, and also uncovered damning evidence against Dario Gradi, the former assistant manager. It is understood that Gradi received word of Heath’s abuse, but failed to report it to club staff.
In the report, Geekie declared: “Mr Gradi is the single example of a clear account of an adult in a position of responsibility at the club being informed about an allegation in relation to Mr Heath at the very time of the events complained of.
“The consequence of my findings is that the complaint made about Mr Heath was not referred to more senior members of the club and an opportunity to prevent Mr Heath from going on to abuse others was lost.
“I consider it absolutely necessary in order to achieve the purpose of the review to name Mr Gradi.”
Gradi, who has had an extensive career in football since then, is currently a serving a suspension handing to him by the FA back in December 2016, though he is still receiving full pay.
And, in response to these allegations, Gradi told Geekie that he didn’t want to ‘get Eddie Heath into trouble’, though he denies any wrongdoing.
The report on Heath’s abuse came from the father of a boy, and Gradi explained: “The fact that he (the father) didn’t want it to go any further, in other words, took the pressure off me as far as I was concerned.
Heath, who died in 1983, has been accused of sexually abusing at least 25 boys – 23 of them from Chelsea. Geekie’s report is damning of Dario Gradi. Full story here: https://t.co/HfNEA4uniC
— Daniel Taylor (@DTguardian) August 6, 2019
“I think I probably would have tried to stand up for Eddie Heath a bit.”
When asked if he would offer an apology, Gradi declared: “No. What could I apologise for?”
The full report is 252 pages long, detailing extensively the ways in which Heath targeted and abused the boys, using fear as a weapon to ‘secure silence’.