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Cleared, but will never coach again

Swim coach Mark Thompson knew he had crossed a line. A 14-year-old swimmer was rapping on his door at 1am after a fight with his mother, sweaty from riding more than an hour to his coach's door, desperate to speak to his primary confidant.
For the boy -- a champion young swimmer who had won numerous national titles and had trained under Thompson for four years -- the autumn night in Melbourne's outer suburbs in 1999 was the end of their close relationship and the beginning of a downward spiral into suicidal depression.
Accounts of what happened next differ, but the pair both knew their relationship had taken a dangerous turn.
Six years later, the boy detailed explosive allegations to police.
The boy claimed that in his bedroom in August 1998, Thompson -- who went on to coach Brooke Hanson to an Olympic silver medal and rose to become a darling of the swimming community -- had begged him to show him his uncircumcised penis before initiating mutual oral sex.
According to the prosecution case, it was a routine that went on for eight months -- in Thompson's car, at swim meets, and at the boy's home.
Thompson was charged with multiple sex crimes after a two-year investigation. This week, a jury decided the allegations could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt and acquitted the coach, to the cheers of his supporters in the public gallery, including Hanson.
During the case, the prosecution stressed that only two people knew what had occurred between coach and swimmer. The defence said the boy was a dishonest, manipulative liar.
In investigating the case, detectives faced a dilemma. There was no one to corroborate the boy's claims, and it would come down to word against word. In a committal hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates Court, it emerged that police had fitted the boy with a recording device.
Then aged 20, he confronted his former coach during three separate recorded conversations, probing the coach about their relationship and why he "did it".
"I don't know why," Thompson was recorded saying in conversation snippets heard at the magistrates court last year.
"I never did before you, and I am not going to do it again."
Thompson's answers gave detectives what they believed was hard evidence. But the recording never went before a jury.
Speaking publicly for the first time, the boy told The Weekend Australian he just wanted people to know his version of events. "There are only two people in this whole world who know exactly what happened and that is me and him," said the boy, now 22.
The Weekend Australian understands that crucial details of the recorded conversations, including parts that dramatically changed the context of Thompson's words, were inaudible. It was ultimately unclear exactly what the pair were talking about, rendering the evidence highly speculative and so inadmissible.
Without the tape in evidence, Thompson's barristers went on to completely dismantle the prosecution case, successfully challenging the boy's recollections of dates, times and places, and all the while painting him as an attention-seeking liar.
Defence barrister Michael Tovey described the accuser as a"very manipulative young man" during the case's opening.
Thompson, 38, was acquitted of 11 charges of taking part in an act of sexual penetration with a child.
After a two-week trial, he walked from the dock in tears, hugging his wife, Hanson, and other members of a 30-strong support team. But the career of the man who was one of Australia's best-performing coaches at the Athens Olympics was in tatters and his reputation may never recover. Thompson, who has remained silent since his acquittal and declined to be interviewed by The Weekend Australian, has told those close to him he will never go back to coaching.
The racking sobs of his wife, Alison Martin, that shook the court when the verdict was announced spoke volumes of the impact on his relationship.
The boy said he, too, was crushed. He said he held no animosity towards Thompson, despite the fact that a jury believed the coach over him.
"I never set out to destroy anybody's life," he said.
During the case, the boy's version of events remained secret to the public. He faced cross-examination behind closed doors.
The boy admitted to repeatedly breaking into cars and stealing stereos and growing hydroponicmarijuana in his wardrobe.
The court heard he had an unhappy family life -- a fact denied by the boy -- and dreamed of joining a new family. There was a throwaway comment from the boy about compensation -- "I don't care how much money it's worth, even if it's $5million" -- that was seized on by the defence.
There was also the boy's failed dreams of representing Australia in swimming. Thwarted ambition bred bitterness, the defence claimed, and a desire for blame.
When the boy slit his wrists with a bottle after his relationship with Thompson began to crumble, he confided in a psychologist.
But those confidences ended up in the hands of Thompson's lawyers and were used as ammunition in their construction of the boy's "illicit" desire to attach himself to a new family and his threats of suicide aimed at "manipulating situations".
Emeritus professor in child development Freda Briggs says justice is impossible in a legal system that exposes potential victims of sex crimes to the sort of tactics more often seen in commercial litigation. For years, she has been calling for reform to prevent defence barristers constructing what may be altered narratives of a complainant's motivations.
"We need an inquisitorial system where all aspects of evidence are presented, where we are not restricted by the rules of evidence," Professor Briggs said.
While not reflecting on the Thompson case, Professor Briggs said child victims were destined to fail in criminal sex assault cases, because the emotional damage caused by the abuse could drive victims to commit crimes or exhibit socially objectionable behaviour -- all matters that are then seized upon by defence lawyers in discrediting them.
Equally indignant are Thompson's supporters, who firmly believe he was falsely accused.
And according to Australian Olympic coach and Thompson friend Leigh Nugent, fear of having the finger pointed at them will deter many coaches from putting their hands up. "In this day and age coaches are in a very vulnerable position," he said.

The Australian (1-9-2007)
Natasha Robinson

Accused pedophile Mark Thompson.
Swim coach appears on child sex charges

A swimming coach has appeared in a Melbourne court today charged with 21 child sex offences.
Mark Thompson, 36, of suburban Lilydale, is charged with 10 counts of sexual penetration of a child aged under 16 and 11 counts of committing an indecent act with a child aged under 16.
Police allege the offences happened between October 1998 and April 1999.
Thompson, who coached Olympian Brooke Hanson, is appearing in the Melbourne Magistrates' Court today for a preliminary hearing.
Thompson coached Hanson to win a silver medal in the 100 metres breaststroke at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
He has taken leave from the Nunawading Swimming Club, where he is head coach.
The hearing before magistrate Felicity Broughton continues.

www.theage.com.au (1-5-2006)

Swimming Coach Charged With Sexual Assault

The coach of Australian Olympic gold medal-winning swimmer Brooke Hanson has been charged with a series of sexual assaults, including the rape of a 14-year-old boy.
Mark Thompson, who was named Victorian Coach of the Year in July, appeared briefly in Melbourne Magistrates Court yesterday for a file hearing in relation to the charges.
He is accused of several counts of sexual assault dating back to 1998, including one count of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and one count of engaging in an indecent act with a child under 16.
Mr Thompson was not required to enter a plea and refused to comment outside court.
Hanson, who won an individual silver medal and a relay gold medal at Athens last year, has been coached by Mr Thompson for several years.
She also refused to comment last night.
Mr Thompson, who was a member of the Australian swimming coaching squad at the Athens Olympics, is the head coach at Nunawading Swimming Club in Melbourne's east.
Last night a club spokesman said Mr Thompson had taken leave from the head coaching position indefinitely.
Former Australian swimmer Nicole Livingstone told Channel 9 the allegations would "send shockwaves" through the swimming world.
Mr Thompson was well liked within the Australian team, often acting as an unofficial "morale booster and amateur psychologist" for team members, Livingstone said.
The allegations come just three years after sexual assault claims were made against head swimming coach at the Queensland Academy of Sport, Scott Volkers.
The charges against Mr Volkers were later dropped.
Mr Thompson will reappear in Melbourne Magistrates Court in January.

The Australian (6-10-2005)
James Madden

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