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
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
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)
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
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
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)