The present Chelsea regime did not break any rules in keeping quiet about allegations of sex abuse suffered by former youth player Gary Johnson, the English Premier League said.
“After careful consideration, the board has determined that no Premier League rules were broken by the club not reporting this matter to them in 2014,” the Premier League said in a statement Thursday.
The Premier League said it has insisted that Chelsea whose present owner Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich took over years after the abuse have an independent expert carry out a full safeguarding audit.
“The League has no reason to have any concerns about Chelsea’s current provisions in this area, but, given the seriousness of these historical allegations, feels that such a review is an appropriate course of action,” it added.
Chelsea additionally has to provide the Premier League with details of the club’s internal review on historic abuse, launched after Johnson and several other former players came forward to claim they had been abused by scout Eddie Heath back in the 1970’s.
The Premier League said Chelsea has agreed to the requests. The club and Abramovich have been lambasted for imposing a gagging order as a condition of paying Johnson GBP 50,000 (USD 63,850, 59,230 euros) compensation in 2015 for the abuse he suffered at the hands of Heath.
Johnson, now 57, broke the gagging order once other former footballers had come forward to claim they had been victims of sex abuse decades ago and he told the BBC he would be seeking greater compensation from Chelsea as the abuse had “taken away his childhood”.
There has been some speculation that Chelsea could face a group action law suit that could potentially cost them millions.
Heath, who died in 1983 aged 54, was sacked by Chelsea in 1979 by then manager Geoff Hurst, not for sexual impropriety but because he spent more time decorating his office than scouting.
He moved on to another London club, Charlton Athletic, where a former youth player alleges he was abused by him.
It is not known whether Chelsea are one of the four London-based Premier League teams under police investigation over historic abuse. Twenty-six other clubs from the capital are also involved.
However, former detective Clive Driscoll said Friday that Chelsea and another current Premier League club, Crystal Palace, had dismissed his warning in 2001 about another scout.
John Butcher had been convicted in 1993 of attempting to smuggle child abuse images into England from the Netherlands. “I spoke to Millwall, Chelsea and Palace about Butcher and warned them about him in 2001,” Driscoll told The Times.
“I was a detective inspector at the time and I was phoning them from the police, but I might as well have been phoning from the moon. I was saying he had a conviction but they just treated it as a football matter,” said Driscoll, who during his career successfully brought the white killers of black teenager Stephen Lawrence to trial after years of frustration over the initial investigation.
According to the information gathered by Operation Hydrant—the UK-wide police investigation into non-recent child sexual abuse -- 148 clubs are now involved, with 155 potential suspects and 429 victims, aged between four and 20.