By Michael MacLeod
A PERVERTED gym coach has been jailed for three years for sexually abusing girls as young as seven in more than two decades of sickening exploitation.
Mitchell Dolphin felt up girls in his own gymnasium and forced them to touch his privates, but continually denied he had done anything wrong.
The 51 year-old’s twisted tactics were branded “sneaky” by prosecutors during a four week trial, throughout which some of the youngsters bravely gave harrowing evidence.
Sentencing the trampoline teacher today (Thurs), Sheriff Frank Crowe said there was no doubt Dolphin “took advantage of the athletes for his own sexual gratification.”
Relieved victims and their parents wept as the sentence was read out at Edinburgh Sheriff Court and afterwards spoke of their “vindication”.
Even one of the members of the jury who found Dolphin guilty was in court to see him being led to the cells.
One victim’s mother said: “This man was a complete beast, not to mention a liar.
“He has dragged my daughter and her friends through four horrible weeks in court and knowing him he probably enjoyed it. We’re delighted to see him jailed.”
And another father of one of the girls said: “There is definitely a sense of vindication. We were realistic enough to know he was never going to get 10 years, and he certainly won’t enjoy three.
“It just shows his arrogance as he was sitting there shaking his head the whole time the Sheriff was speaking to him.
“You wonder if there’s something missing in his head.
“Hopefully this will bring a bit of closure for the girls. They had to put up with hearing some of the lies he came out with to try and get off with it.”
Once the girls had been dropped off by their parents at the Lo-Gy gym in Loanhead, Midlothian, boss Dolphin preyed on their innocent enthusiasm for gymnastics.
He groped them as they did warm-up stretches, forced them to straddle his lap and even stuck his tongue in a seven year-old’s mouth.
Dolphin – the son of a pair of Army fitness instructors – claimed he had built a good reputation for the gym by encouraging a “family atmosphere.”
He mentored former World School Games silver medallist Ryan McCreadie, who went on to compete in the Scottish squad alongside the likes of Chris Hoy at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002.
Claiming to be an ambassador of child protection, Dolphin even boasted that he helped to draft parts of the Scottish Gymnastics authority’s care policies.
But he used his position of trust to abuse six girls behind the backs of other gymnasts, staff and parents.
He even abused one girl at his home while she was waiting to be collected from gym class by her parents.
None of the families knew they had been manipulated into believing his gym was a safe place to send their children until one of the girls came forward in 2008.
And last month his shameful perverted secrets were exposed in court – 22 years since they first began.
He sobbed in the dock when the jury returned its majority guilty verdicts on 10 charges dating as far back as 1986.
Sheriff Frank Crowe read out a detailed statement to Dolphin, specifically addressing the abuse of each individual victim, some of which was too extreme for publication.
But parents outside the court said they were “delighted” at the Sheriff’s sentencing.
One mother said: “The Sheriff’s speech showed our girls the respect the deserved and it made each of them feel personally vindicated at coming forward.”
The Sheriff told him: “By all accounts you are a skilled coach and many people, including the victims, achieved much success under you.
“But your conviction of these charges casts an unfortunate shadow on the good work done there by yourself, other staff members, parents and gymnasts.
“One of the girls was a talented gymnast who achieved much success and was on the edge of selection in the Commonwealth Games.
“It seems clear to me you became infatuated with her, cuddling her, forcing her to straddle your lap to the point whereby you became aroused.
“These offences were committed surreptitiously in the halls when other people were there.
“Such was your confidence and power that you thought you could get away with these outrageous intrusions of the privacy of these girls.
“It is clear from their evidence that they have struggled to come to terms with the effects of your behaviour.
“Gymnastic coaching, like other sports, involves work in close proximity with the athlete.
“It is vital that this relationship does not become compromised by the coach to take advantage of the athletes for his own sexual gratification.”
He was put on the sex offenders register indefinitely and referred to Scottish Ministers to prevent him teaching children.
Morag McLaughlin, Area Procurator Fiscal for Lothian and Borders, said: “Mitchell Dolphin took advantage of his position and the trust put in him by his victims and their families to carry out sexual abuse over a period of 22 years.
“This has been a difficult case for all those involved and I am very aware that it has not been easy for his victims to report him to the police and give evidence against him.
“However, they have had the courage to do so and as a result our specialist Sexual Offences Team has been able to work with Lothian and Borders Police to ensure that he was brought to court and convicted.
“Sexual offences are among the most distressing, disturbing crimes in our society, and can present challenges for prosecutors.
“However, the Lothian and Borders Area Sexual Offences team has highly trained, highly experienced staff who specialise in prosecuting sexual offences.
“We are committed to providing victims with the support they need throughout the criminal justice process and to bringing offenders to justice.”
WERE YOU one of Mitch Dolphin’s victims? If so call our court reporter Michael MacLeod who has been following the case all the way along and speak to him in confidence. Call him on 0797 021 6685 or 0131 561 2233 or email [email protected]. Don’t worry about the cost, he can call you right back.