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Allegations of abuse within British Gymnastics

A string of prominent gymnasts have revealed traumatic experiences at the hands of their coaches from a young age.  Now, British Gymnastics has announced it will be launching an independent inquiry.

Welsh Champion, Paige Southern-Reason, who is just eight years old, is one of many brave gymnasts who has come forward and described scandalous mistreatment and abuse, including being tied to a horizontal bar and left hanging there with her pain and cries ignored.  She says that she was warned by the staff at her sports club that if she told her parents what happened then she would be punished further.

Former elite British gymnast, Margaux Derakhshan, says she saw a girl “pushed to the floor and dragged by her hair out of the gym just because she couldn’t get the choreography right.”

Catherine Lyons, a Junior European Floor Champion for Great Britain, has also alleged that she was hit by her coach when she was 10 years old, dragged into a store cupboard and also beaten with a stick.  British Gymnastics has accepted that an error had been made when Catherine’s parents were not informed of concerns that had been raised regarding the coach back in 2012.

Yesterday, Becky and Ellie Downie were the latest to come forwards, stating that abuse in GB gymnastics is ‘completely normalised’ and that they themselves had faced “an environment of fear and mental abuse”.

Following the onslaught of allegations, British Gymnastics announced on Tuesday that it would be funding an independent investigation into the abuse allegations.  UK Sport has also said it would also be investigating these claims.

It is vital that this review is truly independent.  It needs to be able to make practical recommendations to ensure that safeguarding in British Gymnastics becomes more transparent.  Complaints made against coaches must not be covered up. Athletes, and their parents, must be able to make informed decisions about who should coach them and feel safe in coming forward to disclose any issues of abuse that they have faced.  Parents must have the information necessary to be sure that they are placing their child in a safe and appropriate environment.

Many British gymnasts may have been encouraged to disclose their own experiences after watching the documentary Athlete A, which detailed abuse of gymnasts perpetrated by USA team doctor Larry Nassar, who has sexually abused hundreds of American gymnasts.

It is likely that many victims of abuse in gymnastics have yet to come forward and that this investigation will make us realise we are only currently seeing the tip of the iceberg with regard to abuse within British Gymnastics.

We have successfully acted on behalf of many clients in relation to sexual abuse within sporting institutions and understand both the legal and emotional issues involved.

Joseph Carr is a senior solicitor in the Abuse team at Bolt Burdon Kemp.  If you feel you may have a claim or are enquiring on behalf of a loved one, contact Joseph free of charge and in confidence on 020 7288 4807 or at  Alternatively, complete this form and one of the solicitors in the Abuse team will contact you.  Find out more about the Abuse team.

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