LONDON (AP) — English Premier League club Chelsea has apologized for the “terrible past experiences” of some former youth players after an investigation into child sexual abuse.
Barrister Charles Geekie found that Eddie Heath, who coached Chelsea’s youth teams from 1968-1979, was a “dangerous and prolific child abuser. His conduct was beyond reprehensible.”
Geekie said the abuse by Heath, who died in 1983, “was able to occur unchallenged,” and his report documented “the life-changing impact it had on those affected.”
Former Crewe manager Dario Gradi, who was suspended by the Football Association in 2016 amid separate investigations, was criticized by Geekie for failing to stop Heath when working at Chelsea in the early 1970s.
“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,” Geekie said.
“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.”
The 252-page report by Geekie details how Heath targeted vulnerable boys, earning their trust, abusing them and then using “fear to secure silence”. Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck has met with 17 of the abuse survivors, with the club saying compensation will be paid.
“The board wishes to thank all the survivors and witnesses who came forward to assist the reviews and the club apologizes unreservedly for the terrible past experiences of some of our former players,” Chelsea said in a statement. “It is evident that Heath was a dangerous and prolific child abuser. His conduct was beyond reprehensible. The report details how abuse was able to occur unchallenged, and the life-changing impact it had on those affected.”
Gradi was appointed an assistant coach at Chelsea in January 1971, with the review unable to establish if he left in 1975 or 1976. Now 78, Gradi is accused of attempting to smooth over allegations of Heath assaulting a youth player during a visit to the player and his father.
Gradi told Geekie’s investigation team that the father of the boy did not want the complaint to “get Eddie Heath into trouble”, insisting he informed club management of the allegations.
“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,” Gradi is quoted as saying in the Geekie report. “I think I probably would have tried to stand up for Eddie Heath a bit.”