Tennis coach father John De'Viana cleared of cruelty

John De'Viana Image copyright Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
Image caption Jurors took less than 90 minutes to clear John De'Viana of the charges

A tennis coach who was accused of abusing his daughters in a bid to make them champions of Wimbledon has been cleared of mistreating them.

John De'Viana, 54, was alleged to have beaten and verbally abused his two daughters Monaei and Nephe after they failed to meet his expectations.

He said the claims were fabricated because he separated from their mother.

Jurors at Snaresbrook Crown Court unanimously cleared him of two counts of child abuse after a two-week trial.

Mr De'Viana, a former karate champion from Ilford, east London, said his relationship with his daughters had suffered after he walked out on their mother, Michelle Horne, in 2011.

Under his guidance the girls became among the country's brightest tennis talents, with the younger sister, Nephe, even appearing alongside Andy Murray on a Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) advert.

But they quit the sport shortly after he left, despite having a future on court, jurors were told.

Image copyright Central
Image caption Monaei De'Viana (left) and Nephe De'Viana were angry with their father, the court heard

Monaei, 21, told the court: "He was always coach, he was never actually dad. He was awful to me."

The court was told that when she was aged about nine or 10, Mr De'Viana wrote "L for Loser" on her face during a training session and then locked her in a caravan.

BBC reporter James Bryant reports from court

The jury took just under an hour and a half to unanimously agree John De'Viana was not guilty on both counts.

He didn't abuse his daughters in any way. He didn't punish them. He didn't force them to play tennis.

It took him a brief moment to digest the words not guilty from the jury foreman. Mr De'Viana then held his head in his hands and sobbed as the judge said he was free to leave the court.

Outside he stood by his solicitor who read a statement on his behalf. He said he hoped other parents and coaches weren't put off training with children.

He also said he loved his daughters and always would.

Her sister Nephe, 19, also accused her father of violent and intimidating behaviour towards her.

Mr De'Viana admitted that as his girls improved in the sport, the fun appeared to wane.

He told jurors: "I began to understand the crossover line between coach and father. I felt that Monaei and I weren't enjoying all the fun things that we used to do."

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Media captionSolicitor statement: John De'Viana "will always love" his daughters

He added: "As a father and a coach there was a fine line and I was already struggling to stay on balance."

The court heard Monaei was encouraged to hold a racquet from the age of 10 months and was made to play tennis from the age of three.

Ms Horne said both girls were made to train from an early age whether they wanted to or not, but defence lawyer Tara Adkin QC said Ms Horne was attempting to rewrite history in order to gain an advantage in her battle for contact with her daughters.

Image copyright PA
Image caption LTA colleague Geoff Thompson said Mr De'Viana had a passive coaching style

Ms Adkin said: "You have tried throughout giving your evidence to rewrite the childhood of your two girls. You have tried to present it as cruelty during tennis training when it was nothing of the sort."

Contrary to the violent and aggressive depictions of his character, jurors heard Mr De'Viana had a "passive" style as an instructor.

LTA colleague Geoff Thompson told the court he had never heard Mr De'Viana swearing at this daughters on the court as that would have been unprofessional.

In his opinion, his colleague's skill lay in his ability to judge how much to push his children, without placing them under undue pressure.

"The more pressure, the more intensity you place upon that child, they will simply implode and, in coaching terms, they will simply become passive," he said.

Mr De'Viana always denied abusing his children and when pressed for an answer said he thought his girls had resorted to prosecution because they were angry with him over the break-up with their mother.

"I didn't give them the courtesy of an explanation when I left, they are not feeling too good towards me.

"I can only assume they are pretty upset with me as a father."

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