Monday, August 24, 2015

British gym coach says he has 'been through 18 months of hell' after being cleared of child cruelty charges

The coach who led a gymnastics troupe to victory on Britain’s Got Talent act has said he has suffered through ’18 months of hell’ after being cleared of child cruelty charges.

Neil Griffiths, 42, was accused of child cruelty by the parents of three children he coached, but the charges were dropped last week before the case went to trial.

The national gymnastics coach, from Ashford, Surrey, is regarded as one of the country’s best – and coached Spelbound to win the fourth series of Britain’s Got Talent in front of more than 15million people in 2010.

The troupe then went on to perform at the closing ceremony of the London Olympics two years later.

Mr Griffiths had always maintained his innocence after being questioned on suspicion of mistreating children as young as nine by police in July.

Now, after being cleared, he says his reputation has been tarnished and he has lost his livelihood – but is now looking for a chance to return to the job he loves.

‘I have been through hell for the last 18 months,’ he told the Telegraph.  ‘I’m grateful for all the support I’ve received, but devastated that the good name I have built up over 15 years in the sport, training British, European and world champions, has been tarnished and called into question.’

He added: ‘This matter should never have dragged on as long as it did or been allowed to go on as far as it did.’

Friends said the charges were ‘baseless’ and he attracted support from his former pupils and their parents, who launched a campaign on Facebook to help clear his name.

As well as training Spelbound, Griffiths had been head coach at Heathrow Gymnastics Club, in west London. The club’s senior acrobatics squad, which includes children, trains up to four hours a day, five days a week.

But he was suspended by British Gymnastics after the allegations first emerged – and following police questioning, he was charged with five counts of child cruelty dating back to nearly a decade ago.

A trial date was set for February 2016, but following a senior crown prosecution lawyer’s review of the evidence, the decision was made to drop the charges.  The lawyer decided there was no realistic possibility of a conviction and wrote to Mr Griffiths's lawyer John Hartley to inform him of the decision this week.

Mr Hartley told MailOnline tonight: ‘It has been a very difficult and stressful time for Neil and his family. We hope that British gymnastics will respect the decision and allow him to return to the sport he has devoted himself to for many years.  ‘He was suspended pending the outcome of this matter and is of course keen to get back to his many supportive students and to earn a living.

‘I am very pleased that the CPS finally reviewed the matter and decided there was insufficient evidence to proceed. We had advised the CPS and the court that we would be making submissions to that effect in due course.  ‘I have represented Neil from the outset and he had maintained his position from the beginning that these allegations were untrue.’

Original report here

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