Chelsea made secret payment in child sex abuse claim
Chelsea sanctioned a secret payment to a former youth team footballer who accused the club's ex-chief scout of child sexual abuse.
The alleged victim was paid off after threatening to go public with claims he was sexually assaulted in the 1970s by Eddie Heath, Chelsea's influential chief scout for more than a decade.
The payment, made in the past three years, was agreed on condition that the victim, his family and lawyers were banned from talking about the alleged abuse. The confidentiality agreement is so stringent the parties involved in the case are not even allowed to acknowledge its existence.
But Chelsea last night issued a statement confirming it had "retained" an outside law firm to carry out a full investigation concerning an individual employed by the club in the 1970s, who is now deceased.
The club, owned by the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, did not deny the claim that they had paid Heath's accuser and settled the case. It is not known at what level the payment was authorised. It is believed that the victim took his allegation to Chelsea about three years ago, emboldened by the publicity over the unmasking of Jimmy Savile as a serial paedophile. He had also taken his complaint to the Metropolitan Police.
It is understood the club initially rebuffed the claim, but decided to make a payment when the victim threatened to make the allegations public. It is understood the club did not accept liability.
Heath, who was dead at the time the allegation was made and was therefore unable to defend himself, was Chelsea's chief scout from 1968 to 1979 and discovered some of the club's greatest players, including Ray Wilkins.
In an official statement published on Chelsea's website last night, the club said: "Chelsea Football Club has retained an external law firm to carry out an investigation concerning an individual employed by the club in the 1970s, who is now deceased. The club has 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. While the club's investigation is ongoing, we will make no further comment on this matter."
No evidence has so far emerged to corroborate the claim made against Heath by his accuser, although rumours of the chief scout's alleged behaviour had been circulating among some of Chelsea's former players.
However, last night Wilkins, the former Chelsea and England captain, said he was astonished by the accusation. "I knew Eddie very well. It makes no sense whatsoever to me. Eddie was a great guy," said Wilkins. "Eddie Heath was fantastic as far as I am concerned. I have never heard anything like this [about Eddie]."
Heath was an important figure in the Chelsea set-up, at a time when the club was short of money and reliant on a supply of first-team players from its youth teams. "We were struggling financially and we had to get some home-grown kids through," said Wilkins.
In a match programme in 2011, Chelsea described Heath as an "unsung hero" in a piece on their backroom staff from the 1970s. The programme described Heath as "chief scout who oversaw the recruitment of untold youthful talent for Chelsea between 1968 and 1979, including the likes of Gary Locke, Ray Wilkins, Steve Wicks, John Bumstead, Tommy Langley". (© Daily Telegraph, London)