Wednesday 23 January 2019

Writer abused position of trust to prey on young and vulnerable

Tom Humphries
Tom Humphries
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Now reviled as a paedophile, Tom Humphries was lauded for many years as the best sports writer in the country. He once wrote that when somebody asked him why he wrote, he thought of the glass display cabinet that his great-grandfather made.

"This was his best piece, advertising his art while concealing its secrets," he said.

"Why do I write? Why did my great-grandfather make wooden cabinets? Hunger. The rush of ego and fulfilment which comes from learning a craft through persistence and seeing somebody read something that you have written."

The same motivation - ego and the rush of someone reading something he had written - may well have fuelled Humphries's downfall.

Humphries became a household name during the Michelle Smith scandal after he bluntly cast doubt on the Irish swimmer's Olympic success in Atlanta, doggedly following the doping trail until its inevitable conclusion.

Born in the UK, Humphries moved to Ireland as a child and was educated by the Christian Brothers in Fairview. Here, he became interested in Gaelic games, seeing them as an opportunity to fit in.

"Having an English accent, there was a desperate need to prove that I was more Irish than the Irish," he told 'Hot Press' in an interview in 2003.

He left UCD with a bachelor of commerce degree and a higher diploma in education and emigrated to London, working in a bar.

Some years later, he returned home to do a journalism course and amid the frenzy of Italia '90 spotted an opportunity to secure a regular gig, covering GAA fixtures for 'In Dublin' magazine.

From there, he moved to the 'Sunday Tribune', before settling at 'The Irish Times', landing a job as a staff sports reporter in March 1992.

His regular column 'Locker Room' became required reading. Sports fans were hooked on Humphries's punchy style of writing.

He was ruefully seen by many of his counterparts as being "the best sports writer working in Britain or Ireland".

The debacle of Saipan ahead of the 2002 World Cup cemented his status, with an explosive interview with Roy Keane. Humphries played a central role in Saipan when his interview with Keane led to the monumental errors of Mick McCarthy's management which saw Ireland's captain storm out of the World Cup.

It subsequently emerged that journalist Paul Kimmage had secured the interview and allowed Humphries to sit in with the agreement that he would run the story after Kimmage's column appeared - but Humphries reneged.

In a subsequent book, 'Laptop Dancing and the Nanny Goat Mambo', Humphries wrote of what he saw as the decline of sports writing as a career at the expense of 'chancer' sports agents who attempt to portray their clients as part of the entertainment industry.

He also wrote scathingly about the social implications of the Michelle Smith controversy, saying it had drawn "a line between the segment of the population who want nothing but inane, meaningless parties and those who'd rather salute an honest loser than a counterfeit winner".

He wrote pieces for the 'Guardian' and the London 'Times', for the US sports magazine 'Sports Illustrated'.

He penned an account of Jack Charlton's years as Irish football manager and attracted rave reviews for his 1996 book 'Green Fields: Gaelic Sport in Ireland', as well as ghosting Irish footballer Niall Quinn's autobiography in 2002, which won the best biography in the inaugural British Sports Book Awards.

Other books followed - 'Dublin v Kerry: The Story of the Epic Rivalry that Changed Irish Sport' in 2006 and another GAA book a year later, 'Keys To The Kingdom' with former Kerry manager Jack O'Connor.

In 2009 he ghosted Cork goalkeeper Donal Óg Cusack's autobiography 'Come What May' - forging the fateful link that would see the Corkman issue a character reference to court on behalf of Humphries.

By those who did not know him well, Humphries was recalled as being gruff and socially awkward, with "an odd manner and bad eye contact".

"He might say hello or he might not," said one former counterpart.

He was married with two daughters but his marriage had broken down, the court heard, and Humphries had moved to an apartment.

In February 1998, he wrote prophetically of the problem of paedophilia in sport, in a Canadian context, describing an incident told to him by a friend sexually assaulted as a child by the sole mentor on the pitch.

"There and then, years and years later with vodka on the table, Macker's life made sense. He'd fractured his premature marriage and sunk to a sour, barfly life somewhere in the Bronx. Everyone who knew him called him a waster. That was before we knew about victims. Paedophilia is not a story for the sports pages, yet sport in Canada is learning the things that sport in Ireland will learn," he wrote.

"Sport, with its youth and its trips and its opportunity for building relationships between coaches and participants, is a fine feeding ground for those few sick minds who prey on kids."

He acknowledged the damage done to children, saying: "No amount of extra trouble in screening coaches and enforcing guidelines and watching our kids is too much to avoid the grim spectacle of wrecked lives."

Just under 10 years later, Humphries had abused his own position of trust as a sports coach, carefully and systematically grooming a 14-year-old girl in the grip of an eating disorder.

Humphries texted her for two years before moving in on his ultimate goal with ruthless determination and without any of the empathy or insight into the consequences his earlier writing had conveyed.

Irish Independent

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