No amount of checks will stop a determined sexual predator, expert warns

Celtic Boys Club founder and coach Jim Torbett was jailed for six years last November after being convicted of abusing three boys between 1986 and 1994. Picture: John Devlin
Celtic Boys Club founder and coach Jim Torbett was jailed for six years last November after being convicted of abusing three boys between 1986 and 1994. Picture: John Devlin

One of Scotland’s leading psychologists has warned that no number of safeguarding checklists and disclosure will stop a determined predatory sports coach from abusing young athletes.

Dr John Marshall, a consultant clinical and forensic psychologist gave evidence in the trial of Celtic Boys Club founder and coach Jim Torbett, who was jailed for six years last November after being convicted of abusing three boys between 1986 and 1994.

Two victims of Torbett were in his under-14s teams while the third was targeted from age five and he was previously jailed for two years in 1998 for abusing three young Boys Club players between 1967 and 1974.

Writing in Scotland on Sunday Marshall outlines the methods used by predatory coaches to groom youngsters, including one-to-one coaching, texting and offering them lifts home.

Marshall said: “We now know that Torbett’s machinations were the grooming strategies of a dangerous sexual predator who cultivated almost unbreakable bonds of admiration simply to gratify his deviant sexual interests. Organisations can further compound the suffering caused to victims by failing to quickly acknowledge the harm done, transparently describe their failings and seek to learn, in order to safeguard children.

“To protect children in future, the two areas that organisations, parents and the wider public should understand is how deviant coaches go about their grooming, and the how boys and men respond to sexual abuse.

“No number of safeguarding checklists and disclosure checking will stop a determined predator, but understanding their approach can help interrupt then stop their stratagems. The balance of many of our current processes focus on systems rather than how abusers actually operate.”

During the Torbett trial Marshall, who previously assessed Aaron Campbell the teenage murder of six-year-old Alesha MacPhail, said “people in authority” were more likely to be “successful in grooming” abuse victims.

He also told the jury at the High Court in Glasgow that it was common for victims to delay reporting abuse.

Marshall explained a term known to forensic psychology as “delayed disclosure” which he described as the period of delay between someone being sexually abused and reporting it.

He said it’s “often the case” that people might “test the water” and speak to someone they trust first.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Sexual abuse is an abhorrent crime and we have taken steps, in partnership with a range of organisations, to strengthen safeguarding in sport to ensure it is a safe and secure environment for children.

“Abuse has a profound and long-lasting impact on victims and their families, and we would encourage anyone who has experienced it to come forward, if they feel comfortable doing so, and access the help available to them. We also await the publication of the Scottish FA-commissioned independent review of historical sexual abuse in football.”