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LTA admits child protection failings after coach abused players for years | Sport

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The Lawn Tennis Association, the governing body of the sport in Britain, has admitted to child protection failings for allowing a coach to remain in his role for years, despite repeated warnings, until he sexually abused an underage player and was sent to prison in July.

Daniel Sanders, 42, formerly the head coach at Wrexham Tennis Centre, one of the UK’s largest, was arrested in December, and pleaded guilty to seven counts of sexual activity with a girl, and one of causing her to engage in sexual activity. He was sentenced to six years in prison on 26 July, 10 days after Wimbledon ended with a record eighth victory for Roger Federer.

The judge at Mold crown court, Rhys Rowlands, told Sanders when sentencing him that his offences had been “an appallingly bad breach of trust” which had “devastated” the victim and her family .

Sanders, who partnered Tim Henman in doubles as a player and coached Jamie Murray for a period, was a fixture in British tennis for years, a familiar character at the LTA’s headquarters in Roehampton when he captained representative teams.

Until now, the LTA has never publicly admitted its safeguarding failed, nor announced it will hold an inquiry into how Sanders was left in place at Wrexham for so long with young girls and women in his care. The alarm was raised many times about his bullying and sexualised conduct from as far back as early 2012, by several coaches and parents of young players at WTC who made very specific, detailed complaints.

So serious did the concerns become that one parent, who complained Sanders had bullied his daughter for two years, warned in a letter to the LTA’s safeguarding team in January 2014: “I feel Wrexham is a bomb waiting to go off if coaches are allowed to get away with the issues I have mentioned and if everybody, including the LTA, wants to bury their head in the sand, then on your heads be it.”

Richard Hughes, a police chief inspector whose daughter was playing at WTC and complained of bullying by Sanders, had a meeting in 2012 with Bob Moore, the WTC director understood to be responsible for welfare. Hughes says he told Moore he had analysed Sanders’ behaviour, and warned that in his professional opinion, Sanders fitted the profile of a sexual predator.

Yet in the face of these and many other persistent warnings, the LTA and its safeguarding team, Tennis Wales (the national governing body), and Wrexham Tennis Centre cleared Sanders to continue as head coach. The case and the failures – which happened not decades ago but in this modern era of increased awareness and compulsory safeguarding – have fuelled concern that the LTA’s procedures are inadequate, and added to growing arguments for an independent organisation to protect sportspeople.

Daniel Sanders leaving Mold crown court



Daniel Sanders leaving Mold crown court. Photograph: Andrew Price/View Finder Pictures

Sanders had risen up the coaching levels following his years as a talented junior, and worked in Cambridge before becoming the head coach at Wrexham a decade ago. WTC is one of the biggest complexes outside London, with seven indoor and seven outdoor courts, a high-performance centre for promising young players, supported by the LTA and Tennis Wales. Still, Sanders was quite a catch in north Wales, a big personality with a name in the sport, described as charismatic to those he favoured.

Several people who were involved at WTC say Sanders’ worrying behaviour was far from hidden, that he was aggressive, used foul language, made derogatory comments about young players in front of others, and generated a bullying culture. In early 2012, more than one coach put in writing to Tennis Wales warnings that Sanders’ conduct was unacceptable and sexualised towards young female players.

One coach is understood to have reported that Sanders had shown pornographic images at the start of a coaches’ meeting at WTC, and he witnessed Sanders telling a young female player he would string her racket in return for sexual favours. Sanders was also said to have openly talked about rating girl players according to how sexually attractive they were.

Another coach is understood to have reported inappropriate sexual behaviour and told Tennis Wales that Sanders had behaved in a vindictively untrustworthy way towards him. He wrote in his letter that a young female player had suddenly left the centre, that Sanders had given an explanation for that, but the coach was told by numerous people that Sanders had asked the player to send him sexually explicit images of herself.

An inquiry was held in response to these warnings, not by Tennis Wales, but, the Guardian understands, by Moore and another director of WTC, Debbie King. While it was continuing a further coach, a young woman, is understood to have approached King with more information. She said that when she was 17, Sanders had asked her to send him sexual images of herself, which she had refused to do. Then at a coaching conference in 2008, Sanders had invited her to his room, and when she went there, Sanders, who was much older and married, had clearly wanted to have sex with her.

While the inquiry was still proceeding, in March 2012 Peter Drew, the chief executive of Tennis Wales, wrote about it to LTA officials, saying: “There are many issues involved here but no child protection issues have been found.”

The WTC directors completed their report, then the issues were referred to the LTA, which conducted some form of inquiry itself, during which Sanders was suspended. Neither report was made public, and Sanders was cleared in weeks to return to work. Some people who had made complaints were told measures had been put in place to monitor his behaviour and that he had been told to undergo training.

Drew, asked by the Guardian how he reflected now on this, and his statement at the time, did not accept any failings: “The outcome of [the 2012] investigations determined that while there was some unprofessional conduct involved, it did not involve issues of child protection,” he said. “Actions were subsequently implemented by the centre to address the issues that had come out of those investigations.”

One of the improvements is said to have required Sanders to have clear glass in front of his office, so he could be seen at all times, but several people have said that within a short time, he had covered up the glass. One coach, extremely concerned, wrote to the LTA in September 2012, saying parents were again complaining about Sanders bullying their children and that the investigation had been inadequate.

The reply, from Valerie Judge, an LTA safeguarding manager, said in effect that Sanders had been required to undertake training, and WTC itself had undergone safeguarding training. Judge said she could do nothing further and that parents should contact the LTA directly if they had concerns.

Hughes, a police officer then of 30 years experience, recalls that the day in 2012 when he asked Moore to meet him, at a Wrexham garden centre, and discuss Sanders, the newspapers on the tables were full of Jimmy Savile being posthumously exposed as a sex abuser.

“I told Bob Moore that I had looked just at Sanders’ behaviour and incidents which were known about: the pornography in public, the bullying and arrogance, the mind games he was playing with the girls, and that in my professional view Sanders fitted the profile of a sexual predator,” Hughes said.

“It was the way he acted as if the normal rules of conduct didn’t apply to him. But nothing was done. These people failed to protect children.”

As Sanders stayed in his dominant position despite the complaints, coaches who were well-regarded in north Wales are understood to have left. One refused to use WTC or recommend their players train there and told the LTA about this stance. Some parents took their children miles away, to Warrington and other tennis centres, to avoid Sanders and the environment in Wrexham. Still he stayed in his post. The parents who had raised concerns say they and their children were ostracised and subjected to further bullying.

The father who wrote to the LTA safeguarding team in January 2014, warning Wrexham was “a bomb waiting to go off,” had been complaining to the WTC for two years that Sanders was bullying and belittling his daughter.

The father wrote to the LTA that standards at WTC were unprofessional, that the environment was “not healthy,” that Sanders had been controlling and undermining of his daughter, a promising junior whose wellbeing had deteriorated to the point of her wanting to give up tennis and crying before training.

After Sanders’ arrest in 2016, police officers investigating the case told the girl’s father that Sanders’ behaviour towards her demonstrated the characteristics of grooming.

In his 2014 letter, the father warned: “It is my opinion nothing will get done about the way Wrexham is being run. Dan will still go around with his cocky attitude and the LTA will brush everything under the carpet.”

Two months later, he received a reply from the LTA safeguarding team, which he considers complacent and inadequate. It said: “Thank you for raising these concerns and please be assured the LTA works to promote the safety and welfare of all children and young people. We will be taking your comments on board and seeing where we can provide support for Wrexham Tennis Academy [sic] in this area of work.”

Asked by the Guardian what this “support” in 2014 consisted of, the LTA did not respond with any detail. Sanders was allowed to remain in place at WTC for a further two years and nine months, until he was arrested for having sex with an underage player – including, the court was told, in his office. As recently as last year, Drew approved funding for Sanders to travel to tournaments overseas, as the coach to an underage girl player.

After his conviction, one coach whose concerns had been ignored wrote a highly critical letter to the LTA, saying: “There is still a lot of anger in North Wales about how this man was allowed to continue in his position of trust after so many warnings. Child abuse comes in many forms and there is definitely more than one victim in this case.”

None of the people the Guardian has spoken to has received any acknowledgement of failures from the then directors of WTC, Tennis Wales or the LTA, an apology, or communication that there will be any form of investigation. Hughes was told by the LTA as recently as late September that an “audit” of safeguarding had been done, improvements made at WTC, and there would be no inquiry into the Sanders catastrophe itself.

Then, after the Guardian informed the LTA last week that we would be publishing an article exposing the safeguarding failures, the LTA responded to us, saying it accepted: “The actions we took were not enough and we apologise sincerely for the impact on all those affected.”

The governing body promised to hold an independent inquiry, led by an organisation experienced in social work-style serious case reviews, and to publish the inquiry’s findings. The LTA insisted the decision was taken “five to six weeks ago” following concerns raised by a board member of Tennis Wales, not in response to the Guardian’s approach, and that efforts have already been made to appoint an organisation to conduct the inquiry.

Drew, in his first response to the Guardian, endorsed the decision to have an investigation and said: “We accept the tennis community as a whole missed opportunities to intervene.” Asked to clarify what that meant, and what responsibility he and Tennis Wales accepted for their own failures, Drew did not specify or admit to any fault.

“With regard to further complaints made between 2012 and 2014,” he said, “a point that Tennis Wales feels is imperative for reducing the risk of future such safeguarding incidents is improved processes for sharing of information between the parties involved.”

At WTC, Moore, King and the previous chairman, Geoff Roberts, all resigned after Sanders’ arrest, having been put under pressure to do so. Asked directly why Sanders was allowed to stay in post for so long despite the warnings made to them, King replied on behalf of all three to say: “We do not think it appropriate for us, as individuals, to comment on these matters at this time and would refer you to the statements already issued by the LTA.”

The current directors of WTC, which is a community trust, said that they “fully and unreservedly” apologise to everybody affected by the failures, and have made efforts as new trustees to work with parents and greatly improve the environment and safeguarding.

“The centre … accepts that failings were made in dealing with this case and we are committed to working with all parties to ensure that we learn from the mistakes made and that this is prevented from happening again.”

Vicki Broadbent, a former Welsh international player and senior coach in North Wales tennis for more than 20 years, was one of those who repeatedly raised concerns about Sanders’ conduct.

“A great number of people feel very angry and let down,” she said. “It was baffling that no warning, no matter how specific, was enough to initiate direct action to prevent Sanders’ bullying and inappropriate behaviour. I believe abuse could have been prevented if people had listened and acted. There has to be a full, properly independent inquiry now to identify everything that went wrong; we need proper accountability and lessons must be learned.”

Damian Collins, the chair of the parliamentary committee for culture, media and sport, has suggested an independent body may need to be set up to be responsible for the welfare of sportspeople, after multiple recent revelations of bullying and poor governance. The abuse of young people and adults by Sanders, and the terrible catalogue of multiple warnings which went unheeded by the governing body of British tennis, make a compelling case for it.

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