The lack of clarity around Dario Gradi’s suspension from football is “a massive elephant in the room” for the Football Association, according to a lawyer who acts on behalf of survivors of sexual abuse.
The FA confirmed on Wednesday that the former Crewe manager and director of football had been suspended since 2016, with its chief executive Mark Bullingham saying he “did not see that changing”.
When asked why he was suspended, the FA’s director of legal and governance Polly Handford said: “Where someone is removed from football for safeguarding reasons, that will be because we have seen there has been an assessment that the particular individual could potentially pose a risk of harm to children.”
Dino Nocivelli, who is a specialist abuse solicitor and partner at law firm Bolt Burdon Kemp, which has acted for and continues to act on behalf of childhood sexual abuse survivors within football, believes the failure to provide further explanation cannot be justified and said it was causing survivors “confusion and distress”.
“I don’t understand and I do not think it is justifiable that we do not know what Gradi has been suspended for,” he told the PA news agency.
“The elephant has become so big there’s no more room. Four-and-a-half-years later and the Sheldon report failed to comment on it, and even when they are questioned about it afterwards they fail to say ‘Dario Gradi was suspended for X’, or ‘Dario Gradi has been found guilty of Y’.
“Even the words they used yesterday didn’t say he was struck off. It leaves this huge cloud, this massive elephant in the room.”
Clive Sheldon QC, the author of an independent review into historical sexual abuse which was published on Wednesday, concluded Gradi “should have done more” to investigate or escalate reports and rumours of abuse by Eddie Heath at Chelsea and Barry Bennell at Crewe, but said Gradi himself had not acted inappropriately in any of his interactions with boys, either when they stayed at his home or in any other setting.
The report detailed the fact that at a 2003 civil case, Bennell claimed that Gradi and other senior figures at Crewe knew he was a paedophile. The report also references the fact that Gradi “did not consider a person putting their hands down another’s trousers to be an assault” when Sheldon had a general discussion with Gradi about abuse. When Sheldon told him that it was assault, Gradi accepted.
Nocivelli added: “If he doesn’t know some of these things are offences, that’s very concerning to be frank. When you are elevated to the position of manager, director of a football club, how many safeguarding courses did Dario Gradi go on in the last 20 years and more?
“What was he doing during these courses? What was going through his head? This does suggest an issue with the Sheldon recommendations. Having a National Safeguarding Day is great, but there is a real concern about what people are doing during the courses and what their understanding is when they come away from these courses.”
The FA has been approached for comment regarding the nature of Gradi’s suspension, and also to outline what information it has regarding Gradi’s attendance on safeguarding courses since 2000.
Gradi told The Times on Wednesday that he was unaware he had been suspended.
“I didn’t know that had happened. I don’t know anything about that situation,” he said.
“All I would say is that I like working with kids, and I would never do anything to harm the kids I work with. But it’s best I don’t say anything else.”