Chelsea FC accused of paying child sex abuse victim to keep quiet

    Chelsea is currently at the top of English soccer's Premier League.

    Story highlights

    • Former Chelsea player says he was paid the equivalent of $63,000 last year
    • Says abuse took place in the 1980s

    London (CNN)The child sex abuse scandal that has rocked the English football world has taken a new twist after a former player accused one of the world's biggest clubs of buying his silence.

    Gary Johnson, a player with Chelsea during the 1970s and 1980s, alleges the Premier League club paid him £50,000 (about $63,540) and asked him to sign a confidentiality agreement last year to prevent any talk of his alleged abuse by former scout Eddie Heath.
      Johnson, now 57, says Heath, who has since died, abused him sexually beginning when he was 13 and, during an interview with the British newspaper The Daily Mirror, he accused Chelsea of trying to cover up the story.
      "I think that they were paying me to keep a lid on this," he told the newspaper.
      "Millions of fans around the world watch Chelsea. They are one of the biggest and richest clubs in the world," he continued.
      "All their fans deserve to know the truth about what went on. I know they asked me to sign a gagging order and how many others are there out there?"
      Johnson says the club may have also paid others for their silence.
      "I hope and pray no clubs are allowed to cover this up -- no one should escape justice. We need total transparency now for the good of the game."

      Investigation

      Last week, Chelsea said it had started an investigation into allegations concerning an individual who worked at the club during the 1970s and who is no longer alive.
      In a statement posted to its website last Tuesday, the club said: "Chelsea Football Club has retained an external law firm to carry out an investigation concerning an individual employed by the club in the 1970s, who is now deceased."
      Gary Johnson played for Chelsea during the 1980s.
      The club also said it has contacted the English Football Association, known simply as the FA, "to ensure that all possible assistance is provided as part of their wider investigation. This will include providing the FA with any relevant information arising out of the club's investigation."
      "At the time that the settlement was reached, the board understood it was a usual practice to include mutual confidentiality provisions as part of all settlement agreements and accordingly requested that one be included," read the statement.
      "The clause bound both parties and ensured that neither could reveal details of the case, including details which claimants might reasonably want to keep private. Mr. Johnson's solicitors did not raise any objection to the draft confidentiality clause and the terms of the settlement were quickly agreed.
      "More recently, against the current backdrop of wider revelations and other victims coming forward bravely to tell their story, we no longer felt it appropriate to keep the confidentiality agreement in place. It was therefore removed."
      The club also added it had "no desire to hide any historical abuse we uncover from view."

      More victims come forward

      Johnson broke his story 24 hours after police revealed that 350 people had come forward in the past week to report allegations of child sexual abuse within the football community.
      Martin Glenn, chief executive of the English Football Association, told reporters at a news conference Thursday that clubs who may have sought to prevent victims from speaking out by paying them will face sanctions.
      English Football Association Chief Executive Martin Glenn has promised a thorough investigation.
      "We've committed to a full review, shining the light on what happened in the past in football," he said.
      "We have clear rules in the game and if there's any evidence of a breach of those -- and hushing up would be one -- subject to due process, the police need to be at the right place in this. When it's our turn to apply the rules, we absolutely will, regardless of size of club."
      When questioned about the possible existence of non-disclosure agreements and gag orders, Glenn added: "I can't say if there has been a cover-up in the game (but) I doubt it."

      Suspects identified

      Seventeen police forces across England, Scotland and Wales have launched investigations, while Greater Manchester police says it has identified 10 suspects.
      A hotline set up to help victims of the child sex abuse scandal has received 860 calls for help in its first week.
      The service, established by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), says its staff made 60 referrals to the police and social services in the first three days alone.
      Johnson, who was part of the Chelsea first team between 1978-81, outlined the abuse he said he suffered at the hands of Heath, who worked for Chelsea from 1968 to 1979. He told the newspaper the abuse started when he was 13 or 14 and lasted for three or four years. He said there were other boys involved and that he expected others to come forward.
      England's Football Association launched an internal investigation into allegations of abuse last Sunday after more than 20 players came forward alleging abuse in their youth, according to England's Professional Footballers Association (PFA).
      The internal investigation -- led by lawyer Kate Gallafent -- will focus on what the FA and individual clubs knew at the time of the alleged abuses and "what action was or should have been taken," the English governing body statement said.