By Michael MacLeod
A SHAMED Scottish gymnastics coach faces jail for a 22-year campaign of sexual assaults on girls as young as seven years-old.
Perverted Mitchell Dolphin, 51, wept in the dock as he was found guilty today (THURS) of abusing six girls who he taught at his gym in Midlothian.
The verdict from the jury of four women and 11 men was swung by the evidence of a handful of former pupils at Dolphin’s Lo-Gy Centre gym, who were victims of his sickening abuse.
He has now been banned from his own gym for feeling up his pupils and forcing them to rub his privates.
The trampoline coach touched the youngsters’ breasts, squeezed their buttocks and made them straddle his lap in the gym.
He even forced his tongue into a young girl’s mouth, while others had records of their menstrual cycles closely monitored on a calendar.
Others spoke of how he slipped his hands into their leotards during “box splits” stretches, while one girl – who was aged just 10 at the time – was kissed on the lips by Dolphin in his car.
His tactics were branded “sneaky” by prosecutor Melanie Ward during the trial, which was attended by dozens of parents who sent their children to his gym.
The creepy coach would rub his hands all over youngsters’ legs, claiming it was “perfectly legitimate” because he said he couldn’t afford a proper physio to massage them.
Dolphin was arrested in April last year and since moved away from the Loanhead gym to Newtongrange.
He denied all charges against him throughout the four and a half week trial at Edinburgh Sheriff Court.
But yesterday a jury found him guilty of sexual assault and lewd and libidinous behaviour from April 1986 to February 2008 against 12 girls in the Lo-Gy Centre, at Lasswade High School, in Dolphin’s former home, in his car and in a caravan at Seton Sands in East Lothian.
The court heard evidence from former British Gymnastics supremo Lloyd Readhead – who drew up child protection guidelines – that Dolphin used “completely inappropriate” stretching techniques.
But Dolphin – the son of a pair of Army fitness instructors – remained adamant that he was trying to develop a “family atmosphere” in the gym.
Giving evidence during the trial, Dolphin launched a bizarre attack on child protection laws, saying he was against the “dogmatic following of more and more draconian regulations”.
But his former pupils, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were left feeling “exposed”.
One woman, now an events manager, told court that it was considered normal for Dolphin to squeeze the young gymnasts’ bottoms while warming up for a “box split” exercise.
She said: “During the warm-up for the box splits, for want of a better word you would clench your bum-cheeks.
“Mitch would come round and check by hand that you were doing it properly. He would squeeze your bum-cheeks and make sure you were tight.
The woman – who was aged between 12 and 16 during her time at Dolphin’s gym – added that the coach singled out her younger sister as his “protégé”.
She said: “I saw (the girl) almost as his protégé. He would pay her a lot of attention.
“She would be sitting on his knee and he would play with her hair. She would only have been coming up for 11.
“Now, looking back, I am just aware of how much attention he paid her. I have visions of him standing behind her with his arm wrapped around her.”
Another woman who was a member at the gymnasium during the early nineties described an incident where Dolphin had tried to kiss her on the lips.
The 30-year-old said: “I was between seven and nine years old.
“I remember he came to kiss me on the lips, unfortunately it was around the same time that I was learning about snogging and French kissing.
“I was hanging from parallel bars at the time. He went to do something disgusting.
“I stuck my tongue out but he was already there.”
The woman said she stuck her tongue out to put Dolphin off trying to kiss her.
The same woman – and her sister – both described stretching exercises that Dolphin had performed on them when they were aged around 11.
Dolphin will be sentenced next month.
Sheriff Frank Crowe told him: “You have been found guilty of a number of charges against gymnasts in your care over a long period.
“Because you have no previous convictions I will require reports to consider what the appropriate sentence will be.
“You will be released on bail meantime on the condition that you do not enter the Lo-Gy Centre gym or Lasswade High School.
“And because of the nature of the convictions you are affected by the sex offender’s legislation and will be required to contact your local police station.
“The length of period you are on the register will be determined when I am pass sentence, which will require specialist reports.”
The sheriff also thanked the jury for their patience “in an unenviable situation,” excusing them from jury duty for five years.