Tennis coach cleared of harassment charges

A TENNIS coach has been cleared of charges of harassing a teenage girl.

Robert John Walbyoff was found not guilty by a district judge sitting at Cardiff and Vale Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday last week (January 23).

The Lawn Tennis Association-licensed coach had been accused of following the girl in his car on a number of occasions between May 1 and August 1 last year, as she walked to school in Barry.

But while the coach acknowledged that he could have been on the roads where the alleged offences took place, including Barry Road and Church Road, at the times cited, he said he would only have been on his way to work, at Dinas Powys tennis club at the time.

Giving evidence via video link, the girl claimed Mr Walbyoff would slow down near her and stare at her from his car. She also claimed that on one occasion he had doubled back to drive past her again.

She said it had “freaked her out” and caused her to hide down a lane at one point in fear, and that she became too scared to walk to school alone, and no longer walks to school at all.

Mr Walbyoff, 46, denied the charges from the time he was arrested at the tennis club on August 31, and maintained his innocence in court.

He admitted he could have been on the roads in question between 8am and 9am, when the alleged incidents were said to have occurred, but only because the route identified was the “quickest way” for him to get to work from his home in Barry.

He said he would take that route three to four times per week to reach the tennis club for around 8.45am.

He also said he would ‘never follow anybody’ and denied ever turning around or doubling back to look at the girl.

“I have never seen the girl before in my life, I do not recognise her name and I have never coached her in tennis,” said Mr Walbyoff.

“I feel awful the young girl is distressed but I would never want to cause any abuse to anybody. I have a teenage daughter myself and the last thing I would want is for her to be distressed.

“I have a decent reputation and have been a professional tennis coach for 28 years,” he added.

“I have coached thousands of children - from toddlers to teenagers - and I have never had a complaint of any sort.”

Tom Roberts, prosecuting for the CPS, said in summary: “He was a lone male, much older than her, in a car. She was a young schoolgirl, on foot, on her own. He should have realised how sinister his actions appeared to her.”

But the district judge said there was too much doubt for him to convict.

Finding him not guilty, he said: “I see no suspicious reason why he would be on those roads at those times given where he worked, and he has no propensity to act in this way with no previous convictions.

“This is the sort of conviction which would ruin his career and his life.

“But given the vagueness of the evidence, an element of doubt exists in this case, and the benefit of that doubt must be given to the defendant as in any case.”

Nigel Williams, speaking on behalf of Dinas Powys Tennis Club, said the club would be appointing a new coach from March 1, and that Mr Walbyoff, like others, would be welcome to apply for the position.

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