Chelsea have apologised after young players were exposed to “a dangerous and prolific child abuser” who was able to offend “unchallenged” at the club during the 1970s.
An external review conducted by barrister Charles Geekie QC was published on Tuesday and details shocking grooming and abuse of boys aged 10 to 17 by Chelsea’s former chief scout Eddie Heath.
Heath died in December 1983, aged 54, and the report states that, as far as investigators could determine, he “was never investigated for, or charged with any, offences during his lifetime”.
Evidence from 23 witnesses paints a grim picture of the historic abuse, and Chelsea’s current board said in a statement: “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.”
The present-day Chelsea board members and signatories of the statement – Bruce Buck, Marina Granovskaia, Eugene Tenenbaum and Guy Laurence – were not part of the club at the time of the abuse.
Chelsea’s statement continued: “It is evident from the review 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.”
One witness told the review: “The boys all knew it was safety in numbers; you didn’t want to be the last in the van, you risked being groped by him or having your bum slapped. He was regarded as ‘nightmare Eddie’. I think all associated with the youth team knew or suspected something as there was so much talk about it between the boys there. I did not talk to any adults about what was happening at the club.”
Chelsea, in their statement on Tuesday, said: “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 club added: “We must continue to challenge ourselves to do better as a club and as a sport. This is an issue that has affected all of football. Police data indicated that by March 2018, 340 clubs had already been impacted, 300 alleged perpetrators identified and over 2,800 referrals and reports received. Tragically the number of victims stood at almost 850.
“While we implement the recommendations of the report, it is important that we also look to the future and ensure that abuse like this never happens again anywhere in football.
“Survivors of child sexual abuse are also able to claim compensation by writing to the club. Claims for compensation are being assessed and managed by the club’s insurer and the club will support survivors through the process.”
Former Chelsea assistant manager Dario Gradi, who denies any wrongdoing, is also criticised in the report.
Gradi, who went on to manage Crewe, was made aware of the abuse by one of the alleged victims, according to the review.
The review states: “[Witness] AV reported his complaint of abuse by Mr Heath to Mr Gradi. Mr Gradi did not make the management of the club aware of the complaint.
“Mr Gradi’s inaction cannot be said to be ‘inappropriate’ as specifically defined by the terms of reference nor can it be said to have been contrary to any child protection or safeguarding rules or procedure in place at that time.
“My judgement that his response was inadequate is made by reference to the mores and expectations of the time as to responsible adult behaviour.
“I have concluded that he should have reported the matter to more senior staff. Accepted practice at the time would have been to do so and he failed to act.”
Gradi told the review: “I completely deny that I ever attempted at any stage to smooth over the matter as has been reported in the press.”