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A SEX abuser was allowed to carry on teaching gymnastics to young girls despite the sport’s governing body being aware of concerns about him almost 20 years ago, The Argus can today reveal.

Gymnastics coach Martin O’Hara was dismissed by a Sussex club after allegations of sexual abuse of a girl in 1995.

Today questions are being asked about why BG did not take action over the original allegations allowing him to abuse the second victim and to work with children for almost two decades.

He went on to coach at other clubs, teach at schools and meet children at amateur dramatics societies.

In another development The Argus understands that in 2007 the sport’s national governing body were contacted with concerns about whether O’Hara was safe to work with children by which time he left a school in Handcross after disciplinary proceedings and the revelation he had been writing love letters to an underage girl.

However, it is thought BG at the time said he had a clean record and the body took no further action.

He was only investigated and arrested by police when a coach reported him in 2013 and an alleged victim came forward. Another girl then made a statement when she read he had been charged in The Argus.

Now 50, and of Medmerry Hill, Brighton, O’Hara denied the allegations none of which related to his work at schools and stood trial in October.

He was convicted by a jury of eight indecent assaults against two girls in the 1990s and jailed in November for six years. He has appealed both his conviction and sentence.

A relative of a victim, who cannot be named for legal reasons but agreed to speak to The Argus, said the governing body put reputation before safe guarding, adding: “I have profound concerns over its handling of the situation and failure to report anything to the police, thus allowing him to continue with his insidious grooming for years, putting many girls in a vulnerable position. It needs to examine its procedures.”

The person, who has to remain anonymous, said: “This is a huge concern. There were warning signs, they were made aware but they did not act. It was brushed under the carpet, and questions have been met with a wall of silence since. BG needs to handle things like this differently. Clubs or schools should no longer be allowed to deal with something like this internally.”

BG initially ignored calls from The Argus and then refused to comment.

After this newspaper contacted the chief executive, chairman and other bosses, a statement was released which said: “We take all issues around safeguarding and protection extremely seriously and work with some of the country’s leading experts in this area. This was the scenario in relation to the case in question.”

The department for culture, media and sport said: “Sports governing bodies, clubs and coaches have a clear duty of care to young people who attend sports clubs.”

The nation’s skill for the sport is celebrated and it has become the dream of growing numbers of children eager to follow in their champions’ footsteps. The picture painted by British Gymnastics (BG) on its website emblazoned with the slogan “More than a sport” is one full of optimism which impresses the importance of its duty of care to youngsters and vows to protect them in their ambition.

But up until the conviction of coach Martin O’Hara, the reality for some Sussex children keen to follow in their champions’ footsteps was very different.

The national governing body’s conduct in helping to bring a predator to justice has been called into question and has left uncertainty over its conviction in its promise to parents and budding gymnasts.

Described as a popular and talented coach who was well known in the county for his work in the industry, it came as a shock to many that O’Hara was accused of the sexual offences against three girls as young as 13 between 1993 and 2011.

He denied the allegations and stood trial in October.

The court heard how he abused his position of trust to befriend the children in his classes before grooming them, sometimes in close proximity to their parents and friends.

Prosecutor Abigail Husbands said O’Hara chose jobs which allowed him contact with young girls. On the stand he repeatedly denied groping girls and kissing one after he drove her home from a gymnastics competition.

Instead, he accused them of flirting and lying about the allegations.

His dismissal from a gym club after he admitted a breach of etiquette was reported to BG in October 1995 but the body took no further action.

O’Hara insisted this was a “mutual agreement to part company” but a letter from the club’s board of control confirming the sanction was read out in court and in a letter to BG later that month, O’Hara branded the incident a “ridiculous saga” and demanded to know why it had not questioned the girl or investigated further.

Some 12 years later it seems the organisation was asked if O’Hara was safe to work with children and no further action was taken.

He was not arrested until 2013, 18 years since his dismissal was recorded, and only after a coach reported him and a victim came forward.

A jury convicted him of eight indecent assaults against two girls in the 1990s and he was sent to prison in November for six years.
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