Dario Gradi leaves the role of Crew three years after the removal of the FA

Dario Gradi has officially ended his long and chequered career in football after nearly three years of being suspended from his role at Crewe Alexandra, amid continuing questions about his conduct as a work colleague of two of the sport’s worst paedophiles.

Gradi, 78, was suspended by the Football Association in December 2016 after the Guardian’s interview with a former Crewe player, Andy Woodward, enveloped the fourth-tier club in scandal and led to Barry Bennell, one of their former coaches, being jailed for 31 years.

Gradi had always denied any wrongdoing but has faced calls from Bennell’s victims, all former junior players at Crewe and Manchester City, for his resignation, having raised serious questions about what he knew and what he did about it.

In August, an independent inquiry into a separate abuse scandal concluded that Gradi had information that might have stopped another serial abuser who was feared to have preyed on more than 25 victims.

According to the findings of a two-and-a-half-year investigation, Gradi failed to report one of Chelsea’s scouts, Eddie Heath, when they worked together in the early 1970s, despite receiving a complaint that his colleague had indecently assaulted one boy in the showers.

Instead Gradi, then Chelsea’s assistant manager, visited the boy’s parents and admitted in his own evidence to the inquiry that he did not want the matter to go any further. “I’d got no intention of getting Eddie Heath into trouble,” he said.

Gradi joined Crewe in 1983 and had 24 years and more than 1,000 first-team games as manager, as well as having a spell as managing director and, latterly, director of football. He was described by Crewe in a statement announcing his retirement as “the club’s most successful manager having won four promotions, most notably guiding the club into the second tier of English football in 1997 and again in 2003”.

Gradi was awarded an OBE for services to football in 1998 and, making no mention of his suspension in their statement, the club added: “Crewe Alexandra would like to thank Dario for his outstanding 36 years of service to the football club and are pleased to know that he would be happy to continue to assist the club’s senior coaching staff with his invaluable experience in the future.”

Officially, however, Gradi’s suspension means he is not allowed to take part in any football-related activities and his position has appeared untenable since Charles Geekie, the QC who was appointed to oversee the Chelsea inquiry, delivered his report.

Geekie led a 17-strong legal team that dealt with eight police forces and conducted 139 interviews before reaching his findings. Gradi, Geekie wrote, had given “somewhat unlikely and unconvincing” evidence.

“Mr Gradi is the single example of a clear account of an adult in a position of responsibility being informed about an allegation in relation to Mr Heath. The complaint … was not referred to more senior members of the club and an opportunity to prevent Mr Heath from going on to abuse others was lost.

“The very purpose of this review is to shine a light on matters such as this. The events involving Mr Gradi are central to the purpose of this review. There is, I consider, a significant public interest in matters such as this being brought fully and openly into view. I consider it absolutely necessary … to name Mr Gradi.”

Bennell, who was appointed by Gradi as Crewe’s youth-team coach, was described by the prosecution as an “industrial-scale child molester” and a “predatory and determined paedophile” during a trial in early 2018 that concluded with him being found guilty of 50 specimen charges of raping and molesting 12 junior footballers, aged eight to 14, from 1979 to 1990. It is his fourth prison sentence, three in England and one in the US, and he is now facing the possibility of more charges.

Greg Clarke, the chairman of the Football Association, described the “tidal wave” of other reports of sexual abuse as the biggest crisis he could remember in the sport and another QC, Clive Sheldon, has been putting together a full report which is also likely to look at Gradi’s association with Bennell. That is expected to be released next year.

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