Thursday 26 April 2018

Child cruelty charges dropped against Britain’s Got Talent Spelbound coach

Neil Griffiths coached Spelbound to victory on Britain's Got Talent. Then had to go through the hell of being accused of child cruelty


Robert Mendick

The coach of a gymnastics troupe that won ITV’s Britain’s Got Talent has spoken of “18 months of hell” he suffered after being accused of child cruelty.

Charges against Neil Griffiths, a national gymnastics coach regarded as one of the best in the UK, were dropped last week before the case was brought to trial.

Friends said the charges had been “baseless” and resulted from a “witch hunt” by some disaffected parents of children he had trained.

The decision to drop the charges followed a review of the evidence by a senior crown prosecution lawyer.

Mr Griffiths, 42, from Ashford, Surrey, had coached the gymnastics troupe Spelbound to victory in the ITV talent contest in 2010, in a final watched by 15 million people.

Mr Griffiths had always said he was innocent after being initially questioned in July last year about complaints made by the parents of three children. He received widespread support from his former gymnasts and their parents, who mounted a Facebook campaign to help clear his name.

Mr Griffiths told The Telegraph: “I have been through hell for the last 18 months. I have lost my job and my livelihood, despite always knowing I was innocent.

“I’m grateful for all the support I’ve received, but devastated that the good name I have built up over 15 years in the sport, training British, European and world champions, has been tarnished and called into question.

“This matter should never have dragged on as long as it did or been allowed to go as far as it did. I now want the chance to return to acrobatic gymnastics and to the job I love.”

A family friend said: “These charges were utterly baseless. This was a witch hunt instigated by a handful of disaffected parents.”

Mr Griffiths was head coach at Heathrow Gymnastics Club in west London but was suspended last year by British Gymnastics after allegations first surfaced that he had mistreated children as young as nine.

Following questioning by police in 2014, Mr Griffiths was subsequently charged with five counts of child cruelty dating back to 2006.

A trial date was set for February next year, but, after reviewing the evidence, a senior Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) lawyer decided there was no realistic prospect of conviction and on Thursday wrote to Mr Griffiths’ solicitor, John Hartley, to say the case was being discontinued.

His lawyers had made the court aware that they were planning a formal application to dismiss the case in the coming weeks.

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