UK

Dario Gradi expected to answer FA questions over ex-Chelsea scout Heath

Dario Gradi Image copyright PA

Crewe Alexandra football director Dario Gradi is expected to be interviewed by the FA over claims he "smoothed over" a complaint of sex assault by a Chelsea scout in the 1970s.

A former youth player at Chelsea - where Mr Gradi was assistant manager - says he was assaulted by chief scout, Eddie Heath, when he was 15.

He told the Independent Mr Gradi visited his parents at the time.

Mr Gradi says he did nothing wrong and that he will help in the FA's review.

Heath, who has since died, has been accused of abuse in the 1970s and 1980s by several people.

The BBC understands that The FA - as part of its widened review into child sex abuse allegations - expects to question Mr Gradi after the Independent reported that in 1974 he went to see the parents of a youth-team player at the club about a sexual assault.

The former youth player - who cannot be identified for legal reasons - told the newspaper: "He [Mr Gradi] came to visit my parents and me to smooth it over.

"I remember him saying something like: '[With] Eddie, [football] is his life and he gets a bit close to the boys. I'm sorry if he's overstepped the mark in his fondness this time.'"

Image caption Eddie Heath worked as a football chief scout in the 1960s and 1970s

Chelsea is not known to have taken any action against Heath.

Child sex abuse claims: The story so far

Football abuse claims: How loved ones reacted

It comes as a mother of a former youth team player at Crewe Alexandra told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme she wrote an anonymous letter to Mr Gradi saying it was "inappropriate" that a member of staff "took lots of boys into his room overnight" during a weekend away in Blackpool.

The mother, called Carole, said her son had told her there were not enough beds for the team.

In the letter, which she said she wrote in 1989-90 and sent anonymously, she did not allege any abuse had taken place, but did ask Mr Gradi to investigate.

Mr Gradi has made no specific comments on this claim or his links with Heath.

In a statement on Friday he said: "Aside from denying any wrongdoing, it would be inappropriate and unfair on all parties to comment piecemeal through the media at this time in connection with historic[al] allegations.

"Suffice to say, I will do everything within my power to assist all investigatory authorities into what is becoming a wide-ranging and important enquiry into historic[al] sexual abuse."

Crewe Alexandra has not yet responded to a request for comment.

The FA has given no indication about who will be spoken to as part of its review.

Mr Gradi has previously said he "knew nothing" about the alleged abuse of young footballers by anyone connected with the club until 1994, and that he then co-operated with the authorities.

Italian-born Mr Gradi began an association with Crewe Alexandra in 1983 that now spans 33 years.

He was the club manager from 1983 to 2007, leading the team to the second tier of English football for the first time in 1997, and was awarded an MBE for services to football a year later.

Ex-Celtic youth coach arrested

Meanwhile, a former Celtic Football Club youth coach - Jim McCafferty, 71 - is being questioned by police in Northern Ireland about allegations of child sex abuse.

A police spokesperson said: "A 71-year-old male has been arrested by detectives after presenting himself at a station in Belfast.

"He was arrested on suspicion of sexual offences against children in Northern Ireland. He is currently helping police with their enquiries."

Allegations 'go back decades'

Earlier, a former Queens Park Rangers footballer came forward to say he was sexually assaulted by the club's ex-chief scout, Chris Gieler.

The man anonymously told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire programme that Mr Gieler touched him on his genitals in the 1980s, when he was aged 15.

The club's ex-chief scout left the club in 2003 and died the following year.

The ex-QPR player said that "everybody knew [Gieler] was a wrong'un, but nobody ever said anything".

The man - who went on to play professionally at other clubs - added: "I had a sore groin - he came into the treatment room. I had an ice pack on my groin and he started touching that."

He said Mr Gieler put his hand directly on to his genitals, before he "slapped the hand out the way immediately" and swore at him to go away.

The former player describes Mr Gieler as "very touchy feely" and said he would place his hands on the boys' thighs.

In a statement on Tuesday, QPR said it would "co-operate fully in any forthcoming investigation".

It added that the club "has robust recruitment procedures and safeguarding policies in place to ensure the protection and welfare of both children and vulnerable adults, and we employ a full-time designated safeguarding manager who works across all areas of the club."

A total of 350 people have alleged they are victims and 55 amateur and professional football clubs are linked to allegations of abuse going back several decades.

The FA is supporting a hotline set up by the NSPCC. It is available 24 hours a day on 0800 0232642.

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