Dario Gradi suspended by FA pending investigation into sexual abuse scandal

• Gradi is claimed to have ‘smoothed over’ assault claim while at Chelsea
• Scotland deputy minister calls on SFA to set up inquiry

Dario Gradi, the director of football at Crewe Alexandra – the club at the centre of football’s sexual-abuse scandal – has been suspended by the Football Association pending a top-level investigation.

Gradi, who has been at Crewe since 1983, including 24 years and more than 1,200 games as manager, has been ordered to stay away from the sport while the relevant authorities look into his specific role in what the FA’s chairman, Greg Clarke, has described as the biggest crisis he can remember in the sport.

Gradi, who has an MBE for his services to football, was barred from Crewe’s home game against Crawley Town on Saturday and the suspension stops the 75-year-old from taking part in any football-related activities until the FA’s investigations team has concluded its work.

“Following discussions with the Football Association, Crewe Alexandra Football Club can confirm that Dario Gradi is currently under an FA interim suspension from football,” read a club statement.

What is not clear is whether this refers to anything that has happened at his current employers, where Gradi has been described as “Mr Crewe” because of his long association with the club, or if it relates to claims that in his coaching days at Chelsea he visited the house of a 15-year-old youth-team player to “smooth over” a complaint of sexual assault against Eddie Heath, the chief scout who has been identified as a repeat offender in the 1970s.

Gradi, then in his early 30s, was the assistant manager at Chelsea and allegedly told the victim’s family that he knew Heath was “closer” to boys than he should have been. Chelsea never took any action against Heath and the FA’s independent inquiry, among a wide-ranging investigation expected to take many months, wants to interview Gradi about what the club knew, what they did about it and whether there was a cover-up.

That investigation will be led by Clive Sheldon QC, with the FA stating that the results will be made public, subject to legalities. Gradi has not commented on his suspension but he has always said he did not know of anything untoward at Crewe and the allegations involving Heath were put to him two weeks ago.

“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 allegations,” he said in a statement at the time. “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 sexual abuse.”

Crewe say they have opened their own independent investigation into how they have dealt with child sexual-abuse allegations but the club have repeatedly declined to answer any questions about who will be in charge of this process, how long it is likely to take and whether or not they intend to follow the FA by publishing the results.

Gradi discovered he had been suspended in the middle of last week but it has only just come to light and the club have yet to draw up an official response. When the Guardian contacted the Crewe chairman, John Bowler, a member of the board since 1979, he indicated there might be a statement on Monday, saying he would have “a chat with my staff.”

The news of Gradi’s suspension comes at a time when English football is reeling from what has been described as a “tidal wave” of revelations since the Guardian interviewed two former footballers, Andy Woodward and Steve Walters, about what had happened to them in the club’s junior set-up. The latest figures from the National Police Chiefs’ Council, released on Friday, say 98 clubs at professional and amateur level have been identified, along with 83 suspects, and there have been 639 referrals to Operation Hydrant following calls to the police and the joint FA and NSPCC hotline.

At the same time, the Scottish Football Association is facing calls to hold its own inquiry. Last week, Partick Thistle admitted firing one of their employees in 1992 over abuse claims. That employee also worked for Motherwell, who are holding their own investigation. This followed revelations concerning a former youth coach for Celtic, Hibernian and Falkirk who was charged last Wednesday with a child sex offence in Northern Ireland and has been remanded in custody.

John Swinney, Scotland’s deputy first minister, said: “I think the SFA should recognise the extent of the actions that various clubs have taken individually to examine previous conduct in handling these issues. But I think the existence of that information is now so widespread the SFA has to consider setting up an independent inquiry that will satisfy that these issues have been properly and fully addressed by everyone in football.”

Football sexual abuse scandal: how the story unfolded