LONDON • Chelsea could face action for breaching Football Association and Premier League rules by secretly agreeing to a compensation payment to a former trainee who had alleged historical sexual abuse by their chief scout in the 1970s.
The five-figure payment was made during the past three years after a former Chelsea player alleged abuse by Eddie Heath, who has since died.
The decision to settle the case - with no admission of liability and an accompanying confidentiality agreement - is believed to have been sanctioned at board level within the club.
The existence of the gagging order, which prevents the claimant from going public with the case, has been strongly criticised by another sexual abuse victim.
FA and Premier League rules state that clubs should notify them of any evidence of abuse towards "a child or adult at risk". Chelsea could face a heavy fine if wrongdoing is proved.
It may emerge that the Chelsea compensation payment, understood to have been paid by an insurance company, may be one of numerous claims secretly settled by football clubs' insurers.
The insurers have in the past often insisted on gagging orders in similar abuse cases involving local authorities, sports bodies, churches and other organisations to avoid copycat claims.
The claim against Chelsea is understood to have been made after the former player reported the matter to the police, though it is unclear what the police did after it was established that Heath was dead.
Chelsea have appointed external lawyers to investigate the circumstances surrounding the claim and compensation, and this will cover how it was handled and who authorised the payment.
The probe is also likely to look at the role of the club's public liability insurer, its recommendations and its influence on the outcome of the claim.
Ian Ackley, the victim of a football coach who was jailed for sexual abuse in the 1990s, said that he was "absolutely staggered" by the idea that a club could insist on a confidentiality clause.
He said: "The notion that a football club would pay somebody that was employed by them or in their care to silence them about what is effectively a crime... is just beyond belief. It's staggering. I'm not sure I've got words enough to describe how shocked I am about that."
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said yesterday that a hotline established amid England's football sex-abuse crisis received over 860 calls in its first week.
The helpline, supported by the FA, offers support to anyone sexually abused in football as a child, and received 50 calls within two hours of opening last week.
THE TIMES, LONDON, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE