Chelsea FC groundsman sent barrage of emails to rivals over sex assault claims

Chelsea Football Club
Chelsea Football Club - GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images

A Chelsea groundsman sent 1,500 anonymous emails claiming the club endorsed bullies after accusing his boss of sexual assault, a tribunal heard.

Conor McKnight alleged Jason Griffin, the head groundsman, had grabbed his crotch and threatened to kill him at a Christmas party and was furious he kept his job, an employment tribunal heard.

After the groundsman’s grievance and appeal were dismissed, he was found to have sent a barrage of emails to other clubs titled, “Chelsea Football Club Scandal – Cover up Assault and Sexual Assault”.

He was immediately sacked after bosses noticed similarities in spelling mistakes between his emails and those that were being sent anonymously.

But despite winning his unfair dismissal case he is not in line to receive compensation after the tribunal found they were “certain” the Premier League club would still have dismissed him had they given him a disciplinary hearing as required.

The tribunal heard Mr McKnight worked for the club for three seasons between June 2019 and May 2022.

He worked alongside his father, David, who was also a groundsman at a club that they have supported all their lives.

At a Christmas event in December 2019, the panel were told there was a “physical incident” between Mr McKnight and head groundsman Mr Griffin, although nothing was reported at the time.

”[He] attended a work-related Christmas social event at a pub in Cobham with work colleagues, including Mr Griffin,” the tribunal was told.

“It is not in dispute that at that event, an incident (possibly two) involving them occurred – what is in dispute is what happened in each.

“On [Mr McKnight’s] account, at some point Mr Griffin threatened to kill [him] stating, ‘You will be leaving here in a body bag’, after which [he] says Mr Griffin threw him against a wall, then grabbed him by his genitals and squeezed them.”

In July 2021, Mr McKnight began a period of sickness which continued until his dismissal which he said was as a result of Mr Griffin.

After time off because of “stress at work”, he submitted a grievance raising numerous concerns including the December 2019 incident, where he said he was both assaulted, sexually assaulted and received a death threat.

‘Unacceptable’ behaviour

At a grievance meeting, it was found Mr Griffin had pushed Mr McKnight at the 2019 Christmas event, agreed it was “unacceptable” behaviour and that “appropriate action had been taken”.

Other aspects of his grievance were not upheld, including his allegations of sexual assault and a death threat.

The central London hearing was told that in January 2022 he submitted an appeal in which he copied in “a large number” of club recipients, claiming it had “done nothing” about his boss’s behaviour.

“You are doing nothing about it and allowing said behaviour to continue,” he wrote.

“This needs to be addressed and solutions put in place to make sure nothing like this can ever happen again to anyone else.

“I do not want anyone to go through what I am going through mentally. It has traumatised me and it will be a series of events that will remain with myself for the rest of my life that I have to deal with. Currently every day I am reminded of it because I cannot do my job anymore and I am suffering and struggling with it because of it, both mentally and financially.”

Between his grievance appeal hearing in January and the outcome the following month, he sent “numerous emails stating in clear, unambiguous terms what he thought and believed”.

In them, he claimed the club had tried to “cover up” the assault he was the victim of and said the club “does not care about the victims of sexual abuse or bullying”.

In February 2022, Mr McKnight’s appeal was not upheld and the club found he had not been sexually assaulted.

Brentford FC email

He sent the anonymous email 980 times in May 2022. He named staff involved who had “ignored” assault, bullying and victimisation and was sent to clubs including Brentford, which informed Chelsea.

Throughout the rest of May, three more “substantially similar” emails were sent to 604 addresses.

The tribunal heard Mr McKnight was sacked with immediate effect as a result of these emails in May 2022. He contested this decision, but his appeal was rejected at a hearing which he was not invited to.

Employment Judge Antoine Tinnion said although Mr McKnight’s emails had used “undoubtedly rude, intemperate, and hostile language” they did not justify his dismissal without a disciplinary hearing.

It was noted he had “detailed knowledge of IT security” which gave him the “technical capability” of sending the emails.

He continued: “The tribunal is satisfied that CFC did not conduct a fundamentally fair disciplinary process (CFC conceded that its own policies normally require the holding of a disciplinary hearing) and that – looked at in the round – Mr McKnight’s dismissal was unfair and out with the band of reasonable responses.

“Having found his dismissal was unfair because of serious procedural failings, the tribunal is satisfied that had CFC applied a fair procedure, it is certain that CFC would still have dismissed Mr McKnight (and done so fairly) because CFC would reasonably have found him to have been the sender of the anonymous emails (or responsible for their sending).”