Commission investigating abuse cases ‘in danger of unravelling’, gymnasts fear

Former gymnasts fear an independent complaints process set up to examine allegations of emotional and physical abuse against dozens of coaches is in danger of unravelling.

ITV News understands that the latest hearing – which involved a coach who sits on British Gymnastics’ Coach Advisory Group – was effectively thrown out after a disciplinary panel ruled the allegations were “time-barred”.

Gymnasts are concerned this decision could set a precedent for many if not all outstanding cases under the independent complaints process (ICP) unless the ruling is overturned on appeal.

The gymnast at the centre of the failed case said the decision was "heartbreaking."

Speaking to ITV News, the gymnast said: “I’ve had no support and have felt isolated throughout. I find it hard to understand - while all the while I’m being re-traumatised. It’s quite clear the evidence [against the coach] wasn’t even discussed.

"Why put people through all of this when there was a chance it could get thrown out on a legal technicality."

The gymnast added: "It’s like being abused all over again.

“I spoke out last time and I was ignored; I’m speaking now and feel like I’m being ignored all over again."

Many gymnasts who have waited for more than three years for their cases to be heard are worried theirs could also be dismissed. Credit: PA

In this case, the disciplinary hearing was based on the principle of "breach of contract".

The panel ruled this meant it could be considered under the Arbitration Act, which allows for time-barring.

The panel concluded that because the claims were made about incidents which happened more than six years before the complaints process started, they were inadmissible. As a result, regardless of the merits of the allegations against the coach, the evidence was not examined by the panel.

Many gymnasts who’ve waited anxiously for more than three years for their cases to be heard will be concerned that their individual complaints could now be dismissed on the same basis.

But legal experts in this field say the panel was mistaken to invoke a time-limit. In short, they say the ICP was set up expressly to investigate historic abuse allegations and there are good grounds for a successful appeal against this decision.

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British Gymnastics and the disputes service Sports Resolutions, who both act as ‘prosecutors’ in abuse cases, can appeal but if they are unsuccessful, it would likely force them to consider dropping an unknown number of outstanding cases.

This development will come as both an embarrassment and a further headache to British Gymnastics as it grapples with the aftermath of a damning review into the abusive culture within the sport.

It has employed full-time investigators to prepare these cases to be considered.

The decision also means that under the current process coaches who’ve displayed abusive behaviour in the past might never be sanctioned.

In an open letter sent before Christmas, the pressure group Gymnasts for Change (who’ve been supporting the gymnast since she received the news her case had been time-barred) called for the whole complaints process to be paused and reset.

British Gymnastics have so far not responded to ITV News about the implications of this case or whether they intend to challenge the outcome, but it is understood they do will appeal.

The panel’s judgement does not affect safeguarding decisions on coaches relating to their current risk to athletes.

It will however cause further trauma for dozens of gymnasts who are worried that allegations against their coaches will never be heard; except for those who are seeking damages through the civil courts.

Those cases are unaffected.

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