Former Crewe boss Dario Gradi could have prevented a sexual abuse scandal at Chelsea, a leading QC has told the club.
Youth scout Eddie Heath abused youngsters over an 11-year period from 1968, with conduct Chelsea agree was “beyond reprehensible”. Dario Gradi’s career could be ending in disgrace after an independent inquiry into the scandal concluded that he had information that might have stopped one serial offender who is now feared to have preyed on more than 25 victims.
Gradi failed to report Eddie Heath when they worked together in the early 1970s despite receiving a complaint that his colleague had indecently assaulted one boy in the showers.
Instead, Gradi, as Chelsea’s assistant manager, visited the boy’s parents and admits in his own evidence that he did not want the matter to go any further. “I’d got no intention of getting Eddie Heath into trouble,” he says.
23 more complaints followed over the years from boys within Chelsea’s youth system – one from a school team, and another relating to when he was working for Millwall.
The former Chelsea youth coach is characterised in witness statements as a “Frankie Howerd character, routinely using sexualised banter and innuendo”.
The report states: “He used pornography to sexualise boys, he made use of gifts to draw boys closer to him.
“He targeted vulnerable boys and exploited their need for attention to create dependence upon him.
“He manipulated and groomed family members in order to persuade them to allow access to their children.”
Gradi, currently suspended by the Football Association and also facing significant questions about the Barry Bennell scandal at Crewe, has subsequently been accused by Charles Geekie, the QC who was appointed by Chelsea to oversee the inquiry, of giving “somewhat unlikely and unconvincing” evidence.
“Mr Gradi is the single example of a clear account of an adult in a position of responsibility being informed about an allegation in relation to Mr Heath,” Geekie’s 252-page report states. “The complaint … 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.
“The very purpose of this review is to shine a light on matters such as this. The events involving Mr Gradi are central to the purpose of this review. There is, I consider, a significant public interest in matters such as this being brought fully and openly into view. I consider it absolutely necessary … to name Mr Gradi.”
In his evidence, Gradi was asked to clarify what the complaint was. “I don’t remember the detail but … he [Heath] didn’t rape him or anything. He was sexually, I don’t know, touching him, I suppose. I don’t remember. I don’t remember being horrified by it, thinking it was awful, but sorry.” He could recall telling the boy to keep away from Heath and that his colleague had been accused of “touching him where he shouldn’t have been touching him”.
He could also recall offering to “keep an eye” on the boy from that point onwards, adding: “I probably said something along the lines to partly defend Eddie Heath … well, he was good with the kids, he’d got a way with the kids and he liked being with the kids and they seemed to like being with him. To be quite honest, I think I would have tried to stand up for Eddie Heath a bit.”