Dario Gradi betrayed these children. He could’ve done something but he did nothing at all… and why were you silent, Sir Geoff Hurst?
- Dario Gradi could’ve stopped paedophile Eddie Heath from abusing more boys
- Gradi knew about sexual abuse allegations against coach Heath but did nothing
- His continued employment as Crewe’s technical director is unconscionable
- Sir Geoff Hurst owes it to football to be interviewed over report relating to Heath
As of now, Dario Gradi is still being financially rewarded for his contribution to youth football.
He is suspended, on full pay, as the technical director at Crewe Alexandra. His role relates directly to his reputation as an identifier, nurturer and producer of talented young men.
Presenting these simple facts in black and white, it beggars belief this should be the case. At 1pm on Tuesday, when the first of several inquiries into football’s sexual abuse scandal was published, Gradi’s position was no longer tenable.
Dario Gradi could have prevented serial sex abuser football coach, Eddie Heath, from abusing more young boys, according to a damning review into historical sex abuse at Chelsea
Former Chelsea chief scout Eddie Heath
It does not matter that this report concerned abhorrent events at another club, Chelsea, and did not relate to Gradi’s employers, Crewe. It is no longer mitigation to record that the monster at the heart of this investigation was a youth coach called Eddie Heath, and there is no evidence to suggest Gradi was involved in abuse.
He did nothing. He could have done something and he did nothing. He knew and he did not act. He heard but he did not care.
And as a result of Gradi’s complacency, or inertia, or whatever motivation he may have had as yet unknown, many more boys suffered Heath’s abuse.
Hearing their stories reduced Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck to tears. Tuesday’s report comes with a graphic warning about the nature of the contents. Not just looking or touching, not just being a bit weird, or funny around the boys. Masturbation. Digital penetration. Sexual assault.
‘I don’t remember being horrified by it, thinking it was awful,’ said Gradi of the one allegation he did hear. Yet Heath was not ‘a bit of a perv’ as he is described to one witness. He was an evil, menacing, fiend of a man, whose behaviour Gradi’s absence of care helped facilitate.
And while Gradi might not be painted as a bad guy himself, he certainly seems to hang out with a few. He was similarly implicated in protecting his friend Barry Bennell, a football coach and child molester on an ‘industrial scale’, as he was described in court.
Charles Geekie QC makes Gradi’s accountability at Chelsea equally plain. He refers to Gradi as ‘the single example… of an adult in a position of responsibility at the club being informed about an allegation in relation to Mr Heath’. He blames Gradi personally for the consequence.
‘The complaint about Mr Heath 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.’ Gradi’s reputation, from this point, is irretrievable. His continued employment is unconscionable. Whatever development Crewe were waiting for before acting, here it is.
Crewe Alexandra youth team coach Barry Bennell (R), with first team manager Gradi (L)
Bennell was sentenced to 31 years in prison last year for sexually abusing young boys
On the issue of culpability, we are used to addressing an industry, or groups of executives. Headlines speak of ‘football’s shame’ and reports castigate entire clubs for historic complacency and incompetence.
The independent report commissioned by Chelsea, therefore, shifts this narrative. It does not pull its punches on the culture that allowed evil men like Heath to lurk within but, for the first time, Geekie is bold enough to state what many have suspected for so long. That someone had to know. That abuse on such a scale, in such a close community, could not have remained a secret. There would have been whispers, rumours, maybe more. ‘I do believe other staff and players knew what was going on but turned a blind eye to it,’ reports one victim.
It now transpires Gradi, a coach in his 30s and on Chelsea’s staff as assistant manager in charge of the reserve team, most certainly heard allegations against Heath directly, from a boy and his father.
Geekie dismisses Gradi’s version of what happened next – that he relayed them to a senior club official – and suggests instead he spoke only to Heath, whose bullying of the boy then intensified. This deduction is gleaned, powerfully, from interviews with Gradi, the victim and his father. Geekie’s assessment of Gradi, in particular, is damning. Geekie is sceptical about his evidence, his reasoning, his recollections. He describes one rationalisation of events as ‘self-serving’; another is ‘lacking in any basis or justification’.
‘Prior to hearing directly from Mr Gradi I reached some provisional conclusions that were adverse to him,’ Geekie admits, before devastatingly concluding several pages later, ‘my provisional conclusions were correct’.
Gradi (top left) heard allegations against Heath directly when he was Chelsea’s reserve coach
Gradi’s reputation is irretrievable now. The fact he is still employed by Crewe is deplorable
The language of lawyers is, by nature, cautious; yet here the contempt is plain. Not just for Gradi but, later, for World Cup hero and former Chelsea manager Geoff Hurst. Geekie meticulously details the many attempts made to interview Hurst, who dismissed Heath shortly into his tenure at Stamford Bridge.
A first letter in 2017; a second letter, sent under the cover of Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck; a third letter explaining precisely why the interview was important.
Each time Hurst replied he was unaware of inappropriate behaviour and had heard no gossip about Heath. He was sacked for no other reason than his scouting performances and selections were poor. Hurst later told Buck he ‘did not wish to respond in any way, shape or form’. Sent a draft copy of sections of the report, there was only silence.
Viewed dispassionately, Hurst’s reaction appears understandable. If he has nothing to add, nothing of insight to reveal, why waste time? Yet Geekie’s request makes plain the unanswered question. Witnesses have claimed Heath was indulged because he was good at his job. Hurst’s version challenges this. Is it not, therefore, a loose end worth pulling?
Heath won a wrongful dismissal case against Chelsea in 1980 in which Hurst provided evidence. Despite Heath claiming he was sacked at the end of a two-hour discussion about his performance, the tribunal noted there was ‘meagre’ detail of what was said in the meeting.
Shouldn’t Hurst have filled in those gaps, out of courtesy to Heath’s victims – in a way his statement on Tuesday did not?
For other reasons, too. In the years when Heath’s influence was greatest, football clubs were almost a secret society.
Record-keeping was poor. Individuals – certainly those involved in youth development – seemed to orbit the club, often invited in by friends and allies and paid for their services in cash.
When the Barry Bennell abuse scandal broke, at first Manchester City struggled to find whether or not he even worked for them. There were the photographs, in Manchester City kit, or at the City training ground, but little in the way of a finite paper trail. When he came, when he went, what he was paid, who was responsible for him; it was all very vague.
So any recollection, any interview, may afford investigators hope. City’s interviews unearthed the name of a second abuser, John Broome, from before Bennell’s time. There might be a morsel of information, at first thought insignificant, that sparks an entirely fresh lead.
At the very least, doesn’t Hurst owe football this one? He hasn’t exactly done badly out of the game since that day in 1966. Could he not give just a little bit back? Would 30 minutes of his time be too much to ask?
Even if he could shed no light on the questions, isn’t there even the slightest sense of duty given the magnitude of the subject? After all, those in Fleet Street know that Hurst is only too willing to talk on a variety of topics in football if paid his standard fee. Could he not have found it within himself to do just this one for nothing?
Sir Geoff Hurst declined to be interviewed in relation to a report on Eddie Heath
For, no doubt, what continues to torture the victims of Heath’s abuse is not just the horror of the past, but the complacent present. The fact Gradi is still employed, and Hurst unmoved, and the law is yet to close the loophole that makes it legal for a sports coach to have sex with a 16-or 17-year-old in his or her supervision.
Incredibly, not even football’s abuse cases have moved the government to tighten laws and language around those considered to have a ‘position of trust’.
At present only people such as teachers, social workers and youth justice workers are legally in that place; sports coaches, faith leaders and heads of cadet troops are among those legally allowed to have sex with teenagers they supervise. The NSPCC is campaigning to close the loophole but, so far, without success.
As for Gradi, it is no longer feasible to consider him gullible, foolish or misguidedly loyal. It is no longer reasonable to suggest the past was a different country. These were kids and Gradi had a duty to protect their innocence.
One of the victims, returning to Stamford Bridge for the first time, said he would like to fall to his knees and smell the freshly cut grass – no doubt a pleasure that has carried too many terrors in adulthood. These were the children Gradi betrayed.
‘I’d got no intention of getting Eddie Heath into trouble,’ he told investigators. ‘I think I would have tried to stand up for him a bit.’
So Gradi picked his side and now football must, too. It is unthinkable he should continue to be supported by Crewe, or anyone else inside the game. From here, Gradi should have to walk on – like the young men he betrayed – alone.
Even if Hurst couldn’t shed any light, isn’t there a sense of duty given magnitude of the subject
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