Chelsea Football Club paid off a youth player who claimed his was sexually abused by the club’s chief scout, it has emerged. Gary Johnson, now 57, is understood to have been handed £50,000 last year on the strict condition that he did not tell anyone what had happened to him.
The payment was authorised by the Football Association’s (FA) chief lawyer James Bonington. Mr Bonington is now Chelsea’s head of legal, although he previously worked for the FA. The Premiership club has now come in for criticism for covering up abuse allegations against Chelsea’s former chief scout Eddie Heath, who was at the club during the Seventies.
Following increasing pressure, Chelsea agreed it would lift the gagging order to allow Mr Johnson to speak publically about his alleged ordeal. He has now criticised the club for “trying to keep a lid” on abuse allegations.
The club is understood to be claiming that the gagging clause was only included as a result of demands from its public liability insurer. However the Roman Abramovich-owned club is believed to have asked that the clause should be included before any cash changed hands. Mr Bonington is said to have been the one who asked for the clause, athough it is not known whose instructions he was acting upon.
While gagging orders are not unusual, they are not usually included unless insurers are specificaly asked to insert them. And, the situation has now changed. Legal experts say that while such gagging orders were used by the Catholic Church to keep abuse victims quiet, they were not the norm. Alison Millar, who heads up the abuse team at Leigh Day, said it was an unusual step for defendants to ask victims to sign confidentiality clauses.
Victims groups reacted angrily to news of the clause’s existence, saying such action made it easier for criminals to continue to abuse children because it ensured their victims could not speak out.