The mother of a teenage girl who was groomed by her boxing instructor has warned other parents that predators ‘groom parents first’ in order to gain their trust and get close to their children.
It comes as the girl has been awarded damages from a Government scheme which supports victims of crime, and despite the fact the Thai boxing coach never faced trial at court as he killed himself just two days after being arrested.
The girl was 14 and a member of Telford Thai Boxing Club, where it was alleged owner and instructor Matthew Kendall groomed her over a 22-month period.
He was caught when attempting to book himself and the girl into a hotel room in Bolton under the name of Mr and Mrs Kendall, when attending a seminar with other older club members.
The girl’s mother said she had been completely unware of anything untoward happening between Kendall and her daughter, and said it is only now that she realises she too had been ‘groomed’ by the instructor to have ‘complete trust’ in him.
Kendall, 39, of Wednesfield, Wolverhampton, was arrested on suspicion of grooming after the hotel he had tried to book into contacted the NSPCC. He was found dead in a car park two days later with a shotgun wound to his head, and a gun by his side.
An inquest found there to be no suspicious circumstances.
Now, following representation through legal specialists Hudgell Solicitors, the girl has been awarded damages by the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA), a Ministry of Justice funded scheme to support victims of crime.
Instructor gained parents’ trust to be alone and kissed girl in one-to-one sessions
Now, the girl’s mother fears Kendall may have targeted more girls given the huge trust he had managed to build with parents.
“We would never have believed that this could happen to our daughter and we would never have imagined it of Matthew as we trusted him completely. I trusted him with my life,” she said.
“It is only when you look back you realise that people like this don’t just groom children, they groom the parents first. He groomed us. For the first few years she attended at the club I’d always sit and watch for two hours and he’d go above and beyond for the kids.
“He then started to say that we didn’t need to sit there all through the sessions, and that he’d drop our daughter off at home afterwards.
“It was only after he was arrested and all this came out that I started to think back and how she’d be later and later being dropped off back home. I’d ask why they were so late and my daughter would just say they had to stay behind and pack things away, but it was later and later by the time she got home and I’d have to sit up waiting.”
In police interviews, the girl said Kendall had started taking her out for coffee and for walks up Lilleshall Hill when she was 14, and that during these he would hug her which she was uncomfortable with.
She said he would also hug her during training sessions, and that when they were in his minibus together he would her would pull into laybys and get her to sit on his lap in the front of the bus.
She said he suggested that she attend the gym for one-to-one training sessions and would lock the door so that no one could walk in and put the shutters half down. He would kiss her and she said sometimes she would kiss him back.
She said he touched her intimately over clothing and guided her hand over his clothing.
Police contacted parents after hotel staff suspected girl was under age
The girl’s mother says it is something she has never been able to fully discuss with her daughter, and feels she may not have revealed all that had happened to police.
“I am certain there was not a relationship between them and she had no idea he was booking a room for them to share that night, but she has found it very hard to talk about and initially didn’t want to say anything to the police,” she said.
“She said that he’d told her that if she told anybody about what had been going on she’d be the one in trouble and that she’d likely get a criminal record which would impact on her career, and that was the reason she’d not said anything previously. She was worried.
“It was only when I stressed to her that she needed to speak out because I told her it could have monumental consequences that she did, and I am proud of her for doing so.
“Looking back, she’d often say that she didn’t want to go to training and that she didn’t like him, but I thought that was because he’d be pushing her at training. I often said to her that she didn’t have to go and that she should be enjoying it, but she said she had to.”
Recalling the night she received a call from the police to say Kendall had been arrested, she said she and her husband were initially unable to believe he had committed the crimes.
“The police asked us if we knew where she was and who she was with. She’d stayed away a few times with the club on events so we felt comfortable with it,” she said.
“The hotel staff had been suspicious of her age and asked her questions. She didn’t know he’d booked a room for them to share so it soon became clear to them that something was wrong.
“We couldn’t believe it when they said Matthew had been arrested on suspicion of grooming.
“I can remember my husband saying that he didn’t look like, or seem the kind of person who would do something like this. That was the thing, there is not a look which tells you and often it is the people you’d think were the least likely. That has been the lesson for us and I’d hope the lesson for others.
“Even now there are people who were members of the club who refuse to believe what he did, and the worrying thing is that there were many young girls who attended. It is obvious now that he gave them lots more attention than the boys. It is quite frightening.”
Compensation awarding is ‘significant’ given case did not proceed to criminal courts
Michelle Nurse, a specialist in handling claims to the CICA at Hudgell Solicitors, said: “This has been a very traumatic time for our client and her family and quite rightly she has been compensated for what has happened to her.
“The CICA scheme delivers justice in cases such as this where somebody has been the victim of a crime even where there is no criminal conviction, in this case due to the fact that the accused took his own life within days of being arrested on suspicion of grooming.
“By taking his own life he of course prevented there being the natural course of justice in criminal courts over his alleged crimes, and the opportunity to plead his innocence.
“We feel it is significant that the CICA has reflected upon the evidence presented to the police and have awarded damages to our client, and given his contact with many other young children, would like to speak to any other parents who may have concerns.”