A GYMNASTICS coach and schoolteacher has been found guilty of sexually assaulting young girls he was supposed to be training to become star athletes.

Martin O'Hara sobbed in the dock as the jury gave their verdicts following a two-week trial in which he accused the girls of flirting with him and lying.

The 50-year-old, of Medmerry Hill, Brighton, was found guilty yesterday at Brighton Crown Court of eight counts of indecent assault against two students, relating to incidents in the 1990s.

Jurors failed to reach a verdict on a ninth count of indecent assault against another teenager in 2011, and the prosecution is deciding whether to ask for a retrial on this count. Two further counts were dropped by the prosecution.

The trial heard how police started investigating the "popular" coach in December 2013 after concerns were raised by a fellow coach about his relationship with one of his students. Jurors failed to reach a verdict on this charge.

As they started investigating, police found an allegation had been made against him earlier by another student in the 1990s and investigated by the sport's governing body.

The girl - who was aged 14 or 15 at the time - said he had touched her inappropriately on numerous occasions during training sessions, kissed her and groped her.

Prosecuting, Abigail Husbands added: "He would go out of his way to help his favourite students.

"During gymnastics moves he would take the opportunity to touch her.

"On occasion there is the need for some touching when coaching gymnasts, but this was over and above that."

A third girl came forward with similar claims after seeing a report of his case in the newspaper.

Martin O'Hara denied the claims, accusing the girls of being "over familiar" with him. He said one of his alleged victims would "plonk her leg" on his lap, which made things "awkward".

Jurors took more than seven hours' deliberation to reach their verdicts. They found O'Hara guilty unanimously on seven counts and by a majority of ten to two on the eighth.

He was remanded in custody ahead of his sentencing on November 20.

The Argus:


YOUNG gymnasts with dreams of becoming star athletes trusted him.

Fellow teachers admired him as a dedicated and successful coach and teacher and parents even invited him into their homes.

But Martin O’Hara failed them all when he abused his position to prey upon innocent teenage girls as young as 13 in his charge. 

He systematically groomed them, befriended them, made them feel safe in his company and became their confidant, building up enough trust so he could be left alone with them in between training and on journeys to competitions.

He fondled, groped and kissed them, before urging them to keep his sordid predilections a secret.

Although initially dismissed from his post at one club after a “breach of etiquette” when an allegation was made, he was free to find work at other gym clubs and schools.

He even joined amateur dramatics societies, and was pictured by The Argus in 2004 in preparation for a performance of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.

At first he had escaped his past, but 20 years later it caught up with him. 

When confronted with the testimonies from his victims, O’Hara consistently denied every single claim saying they were made up.

On the stand during the trial he arrogantly claimed the girls had flirted with him and even described one as “demanding” and putting him in an “awkward position” when she would “plonk her leg” in his face.

He took time to go into great detail about his career and boast of his talent as a coach. At one point he even suggested the prosecutor, Abigail Husbands, had made mistakes during cross-examination. 

He said it was a “mutual agreement to part company” from a gym club and initially denied he was dismissed.

But a letter from its board of control in October 1995, read out in court by Miss Husbands, notified him of his “dismissal” from his post after “admitting a breach of etiquette”, which was reported to the governing body British Gymnastics.

He later contacted the national organisation, branding the incident a “ridiculous saga,” the court heard.

Miss Husbands said O’Hara chose jobs which allowed him contact with young girls, and that he fancied them and would try to befriend them.

Discrepancies between his police statements and accounts on the stand were his attempt to make things up as he went along to make himself look better, she said.