The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) missed repeated warnings about bullying and sexual abuse at one of the UK’s top tennis centres, an inquiry has found.
Daniel Sanders, Wrexham Tennis Centre’s former head coach, was jailed in 2017 after admitting eight counts of sexual activity with a player younger than 16.
The LTA was found to have acted “inadequately” before he was arrested and failed to recognise safeguarding concerns, the report said.
It said that lessons have been learned.
The independent inquiry commissioned by the sport’s governing body, the LTA, into his actions and the response of the tennis authorities has criticised failings in its own organisation, as well at Wrexham Tennis Centre and Tennis Wales.
The report, written by a team of lawyers led by the QC Christopher Quinlan, found staff at the centre failed to properly address “complaints made about the behaviour of coaches”, including Sanders.
An investigation into Sanders’ conduct in 2012 was found to be “insufficient” and “serious concerns raised by parents and coaches” were not addressed.
Sanders, 44, played his last professional match in 1996.
He began a successful coaching career, at one point working at the national tennis academy in Roehampton coaching professional players, including a young Jamie Murray, before joining Wrexham Tennis Centre.
At the time he was jailed, the judge said his actions had been “an appallingly bad breach of trust” that had devastated the victim and her family.
Parents of young players told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme about a widespread culture of bullying and misogynistic behaviour at Wrexham, one of the UK’s largest tennis centres.
Sanders was described as the ringleader in what was a laddish and “very masculine” environment.
They said that boys as young as 12 were shown pornography by adult coaches, explicit sexual language was used on court and young girls were bullied about their physical appearance.
One set of parents said their 12-year-old daughter was called a “hefty elephant” by Sanders, who said she would “never get a boyfriend because of the way she looked”.
If coaching methods were questioned or complaints brought, children would be ostracised by other members of staff, threatened and bullied.
The father of one young player said she became very withdrawn and suffered academically.
He later found out she had been “crying and vomiting” on court.
Richard Hughes, a former police chief inspector, pulled his daughter Kathryn out of Wrexham after he said she was bullied by Sanders – though not sexually abused.
At the time, she was ranked in the top 10 in the UK for her age group.
Mr Hughes told the BBC that after hearing from other parents, he had a meeting in 2012 with Bob Moore, the director responsible for child safeguarding at the centre.
He added that he had formed the opinion that Sanders was a sexual predator.
“I told the safeguarding officer that. I also told him I was specifically worried about one particular girl. He turned white. He gave me his word Sanders wasn’t a paedophile.”
Mr Moore has not responded to the BBC’s attempts to contact him.
Mr Hughes said he believed there were at least three other young female players at Wrexham who had had sexual relations with Sanders.
Another tennis coach, former Welsh international Vicki Broadbent, said she passed on repeated concerns about inappropriate behaviour to Tennis Wales and the LTA, including reports that Sanders had encouraged a 17-year-old player to send him sexual photos of herself.
“If [Sanders] had been a teacher he would have left that job years ago,” she said.
“There were so many people around who could have stepped in and didn’t.”
Cleared of wrongdoing
After a series of complaints, Sanders was suspended in 2012 until an internal investigation cleared him of serious wrongdoing.
Multiple sources told the Victoria Derbyshire programme that new checks were put in place, and he was told to put clear glass in the front window of his office.
Within weeks, people say, he had covered it up from the inside with posters. A court would later hear Sanders abused his victim in the office.
Parents are heavily critical of the way complaints were handled by the centre, the national governing body, Tennis Wales, and the LTA itself.
Debra Jones said she first raised concerns about a culture of bullying and abusive behaviour in 2012.
Her son Adam, now a professional player, was 12 years old at the time.
She complained to the LTA on a number of occasions about another member of the coaching staff at the centre, who she said often used sexualised language around young children.
The BBC spoke to the coach concerned, who denied the allegations.
“I was horrified. I really was,” said Debra.
“We put our trust into the LTA, into Wrexham, we brought our son out of school to go into tennis, and for this to happen when you think your son is in a safe place, is terrible.”
‘Root and branch’
Scott Lloyd, the LTA chief executive, said: “I am concerned that opportunities to act were missed and we apologise sincerely to all those affected regarding this case.”
He said the LTA has now undertaken a “root and branch review” of its safeguarding policies and has launched a new strategy to protect children, but recognises that more needs to be done.
Tennis Wales chief executive, Simon Johnson, said: “We will do… everything we can to prevent any future failings.”
The current director of the Wrexham Tennis Centre, Jon Ainge, apologised to those affected and said, “We recognise that our internal investigations were not sufficiently comprehensive, and later complaints were subsequently not dealt with adequately.”