Gradi was cleared of any major wrongdoing or being part of any cover-up in the 710-page report by Clive Sheldon QC, investigating child sexual abuse in football from 1970 to 2005.
But he was told he “should have done more” to investigate reports surrounding Barry Bennell at Crewe and that he was “aware from his time at Chelsea of the possibility of sexual abuse” regarding Eddie Heath.
Bennell was sentenced to 31 years in prison for abuse against boys aged eight to 15 back in 2018, while Heath, who died in 1983, is alleged to have abused boys during his time in youth football including at Chelsea.
In one damning section from the report concerning concerns from a parent to Gradi over Heath’s actions, Sheldon said: “Dario Gradi explained that he did not consider a person putting their hands down another’s trousers to be an assault. I informed him that it was and then he accepted that.”
Sheldon said that youth players staying overnight at Crewe at the houses of both Gradi and Bennell were “normalised” but insisted there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Gradi, whom he found to be “truthful” witness.
Speaking after the publication of the report, Sheldon said: “I felt that he was trying to give me and I think he did give me truthful answers. I think he may have been vague about certain things but, on the whole, I felt that he was genuine and trying to help out.
“There is no evidence that Dario Gradi acted inappropriately with any of the boys that stayed with him. I think he thought that if he was not doing anything wrong and acting entirely innocently, that must be the same with Bennell. He couldn’t conceive that Bennell was behaving in a negative, inappropriate, abusive way with the boys – that was outside his thinking.
“He should have done more. He should have thought outside himself and asked himself greater questions about what was going on.”
The Sheldon report included claims from Bennell in a 2003 court document that Gradi knew about his crimes and was also abusing boys.
But Sheldon concluded: “There is no evidence that Dario Gradi was abusing boys, and no evidence from any other source that Dario Gradi was aware of Bennell’s abuse or allegations of abuse. In my view, Bennell’s witness statement is not a statement which can be relied upon as evidence.”
Sheldon also denied suggestions that his report had given “a free pass” to Gradi, who the FA confirmed on Wednesday remained ban from football, a suspension which was first handed out in 2016.
FA CEO Mark Bullingham said: “In terms of is he banned from football, let me be clear that normally we don’t talk at all about any individual safeguarding case. The only exception to that is where it’s in the public domain that someone has been banned from football.
“So, what we can do is confirm to you that he has been banned from football since 2016 and that ban absolutely remains in place. We don’t see that changing.”