The Football Association are expected to hand Chelsea a heavy punishment if they are found to have paid money to a victim to keep his complaint that he was sexually abused by a former club scout quiet.
Chelsea are facing an FA inquiry after claims emerged they paid ‘hush’ money to a former youth player when he approached them about three years ago to make allegations about Eddie Heath, who was employed at Stamford Bridge in the Seventies.
The FA are already conducting their own investigation into the crisis that has seen a number of cases reported across the country involving various clubs and have appointed QC Kate Gallafent to head it.
More than 20 former players have spoken out in the last fortnight since Andy Woodward waived his anonymity to reveal he was abused by former Crewe coach Barry Bennell.
FA chairman Greg Clarke has promised to act strongly if a club are seen to have tried to buy a victim’s silence.
He said: “If anyone has behaved improperly they will be held to account and that information will be released. If a club has behaved badly they will be held to account.”
There is no timeline when Chelsea’s case will be handled and the issue is complicated by the fact police want to talk to all victims of abuse first. Heath is in no position to defend himself because he passed away five years ago.
He was at Chelsea when players such as former Chelsea captain Ray Wilkins were brought through, as well as Tommy Langley and Ray Lewington.
There is no suggestion that any of the trio were abused by Heath and Wilkins has spoken of his shock at the revelations over Heath.
It is understood Chelsea have only dealt with one victim that has approached them over Heath’s behaviour.
They put out a statement last night saying: “The club have retained an external law firm to carry out an investigation concerning an individual employed by the club in the Seventies, who is now deceased.
“The club have also contacted the FA to ensure that all possible assistance is provided as part of their wider investigation. This will include providing the FA with any relevant information arising out of the club’s investigation.”
It is believed that as part of the investigation, the law firm employed by Chelsea will also conduct an inquiry into how the complaint was originally dealt with. While only one allegation about Heath has been made, the club are aware that the publicity could now mean more victims come forward and will encourage them to do so.
Chelsea will pass on any information to the FA to help with an investigation and will abide by a punishment if one is forthcoming.
Coach Antonio Conte will be holding a pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s game against Manchester City on Friday but will not answer any questions on the matter.
Dino Nocivelli, a senior solicitor in the child abuse department at law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp, believes that clubs found not to have acted correctly when faced with allegations should be hit with seven-figure financial penalties.
“If it is going to be a fine it should either go to the FA helpline, NAPAC or the Survivors Trust, NSPCC.
“This sector is desperate for financial support, survivors are desperate for it. The fine should be substantial, so that clubs wake up and so it never happens again. If it was millions for these clubs, that isn’t that much. Clubs pay millions for players, but they still won’t want it to happen again.”
News surrounding Chelsea emerged just hours after Bennell was charged with eight offences of sexual assault against a boy under the age of 14.
Since Woodward made claims against Bennell public, police have received 250 reports of allegations of sexual abuse within football.
Clarke has promised that the FA will compensate victims if the governing body is found liable by the independent inquiry. He added: “If the FA look bad so be it. It’s certainly the biggest crisis I can remember and we’re trying to be completely transparent.
“We’ve hired an external QC to oversee the process. The conclusions will be her conclusions, not mine. She will get all the evidence, all the facts, and everything that can be disclosed will be disclosed.
“The scope of the inquiry is a little inhibited by the preference given to the criminal justice system. The police don’t want us to talk to victims and taint evidence.
“So the scope of our inquiry is all the things that passed through the FA, how they were reported, how they were dealt with, who knew about it.
“It will be gone through in a completely rigorous manner, and she will then write her report and make her recommendations.
“That report will go to the FA board and anything that isn’t confidential will then be disclosed.”