Chelsea Football Team. PHOTO: GLYN KIRK / AFP
English Premier League giants Chelsea could face a multi-million-pound lawsuit 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, 59,230 euros) 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.
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.”
Wilson says Heath stayed away from those boys who had stable family backgrounds and added he had been mystified when his best friend Johnson became a recluse.
“He (Heath) was always there in the background at training, pacing up and down the touchline in his raincoat,” said Wilson.
“If like me you were picked up by your mum or dad afterwards, Eddie would leave you alone.
“He was clever, manipulative, and would go for the more vulnerable boys and was like a father figure to them.
“I was best friends with Gary Johnson but I didn’t know anything about the abuse.
“We would play golf together and socialise but 15 years ago he became a kind of recluse.
“No one heard anything from him.
“But it all fits into place now.”