Star athlete tells of abuse

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The Independent Online
The former world javelin champion Fatima Whitbread yesterday told how her "horrid and ugly" childhood was scarred by abuse. The athlete, who won a gold medal at the 1987 World Championships in Rome, said she suffered mental and physical abuse in a children's home until she was 14.

She was supporting a campaign, launched in London, to raise awareness of child abuse.

Miss Whitbread described her experience of abuse as "emotional and traumatic", and urged the Government and social services to "do a lot more" for children in care. "Child abuse destroys children's lives and the mental repercussions can be devastating. Without counselling, it can run into later life and history repeats itself,'' she said. "What worries me is that as we speak this is all still going on, in families, in homes.''

LTA - London Transport Advertising until it became a national transport advertising company - will donate £100,000 of space to the campaign and offer reduced rates to related charities. Advertising slogans on 500 double-decker buses are to be replaced bypowerful artistic interpretations of child abuse - designed by the contemporary American artist Larry Rivers - and bear the message: "Recognise Child Abuse".

A parallel campaign was launched on Monday in the US by the singer Michael Bolton and posters will be seen on buses all over the United States.

Miss Whitbread said she was abandoned as a baby and spent her early childhood in a children's home. She claimed she was once force-fed and locked in as a punishment for not eating a meal. Later in life, she was sexually abuse and beaten.

Miss Whitbread told Radio 4's Woman's Hour her life changed when she met the javelin coach Margaret Whitbread - later her adoptive mother. "Sport brought me an inner feeling of self-esteem and confidence. It was a relief, a chance to forget."

She added she hopes to return to international athletics this season and win a first Olympic gold.