Football sex abuse scandal: Chelsea cleared over Gary Johnson claims handling

Gary Johnson while playing for Chelsea
Gary Johnson was a member of Chelsea's first team from 1978 to 1981

Chelsea have been cleared of breaking any Premier League rules in their handling of historical sex abuse claims made by former player Gary Johnson.

The club have apologised "profusely" to Johnson over abuse he suffered as a youth team member in the 1970s.

Johnson, 57, revealed the club paid him £50,000 to keep quiet about allegations against former chief scout Eddie Heath.

The Premier League said Chelsea had not broken any rules by not reporting the allegations, which were made in 2014.

In an earlier statement, the Stamford Bridge club acknowledged Johnson had "suffered unacceptably" after joining Chelsea as an 11-year-old in 1970.

Johnson, a member of Chelsea's first team from 1978 to 1981, claimed to have been groomed from the age of 13 by Heath, who died before allegations against him were made.

Johnson told the Mirror: "I felt shame, I felt my childhood had been taken away. I spent my late teens in turmoil, absolute turmoil."

After Johnson came forward, Chelsea said a review would take place into whether the club had properly investigated when the allegations came to light and why it did not report them to the Football Association (FA) and Premier League, saying they had "no desire to hide any historic abuse".

On Thursday, the Premier League said Chelsea had agreed to provide them with a copy of this review, as well as having a full, independent safeguarding audit.

The Premier League board said: "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."

In 2014, the rules stated that clubs had to notify the Premier League of any safeguarding issues reported to the authorities. That has since changed to an obligation to tell the Premier League of any safeguarding issues at all.

Chelsea said in their original statement that when the settlement was reached the club's board understood it was "usual practice" to include a mutual confidentiality agreement, adding that Johnson's solicitors had not objected to the clause.

A lawyer representing the Offside Trust - set up by ex-footballer Andy Woodward, who was the first to go public about his abuse as a junior footballer - has previously told the BBC there are other potential victims who have signed so-called gagging orders.

Edward Smethurst said that "calls and emails are coming in all the time" from people claiming to have been forced to sign non-disclosure agreements with clubs in return for compensation.

Smethurst told BBC Sport he "could not make specific allegations" but revealed "several" victims had come forward.

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Youth clubs renew safeguarding commitments

The FA gave an update on safeguarding earlier on Thursday, saying about 8,000 youth football clubs responsible for more than 60,000 teams have renewed their safeguarding commitment since the sport's child sexual abuse scandal emerged.

However, clubs that have missed the confirmation deadline - under 2% of the total number - have been suspended.

The FA has also written to the parents of academy footballers "to highlight the high standard of safeguarding provisions currently in place at clubs".

Its own independent review into the allegations, led by Clive Sheldon QC, has requested access to all FA documents relating to child sex abuse from 1970 to 2005.

There are currently 155 suspects in the UK-wide football child abuse investigation, according to figures from Operation Hydrant - the UK-wide police investigation into non-recent child sexual abuse.

The spotlight has fallen on abuse in football since a number of former footballers came forward publicly to tell their stories, and the number of suspects has almost doubled in two weeks.

Police say there are now 429 potential victims linked to football, some as young as four at the time of the alleged offence, with 148 clubs involved.

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