`Svengali' figure who preyed on his protegees

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The Independent Online
The disgraced Olympic coach Paul Hickson was the man behind Britain's swimming success at the Seoul games.

His record-breaking 1988 squad had seven Olympic finalists and included stars like Adrian Moorhouse and Nick Gillingham, who scooped three golds, silver and bronze medals.

He had become Britain's best-known coach and an influential figure in the sport, but now his career is in ruins after revelations of years of sexual assaults on young girl swimmers.

Hickson, 48, was a popular appointment when he was promoted to chief coach for the Seoul Olympics following his dedicated work for the Los Angeles games in 1984.

Hickson, who was born in Leicester, was a former county swimming champion. After qualifying in physical education, he was made schools' swimming co-ordinator in Norfolk and developed international competitors such as David Stacey, Karen Mellor and Paul Easter.

He moved to the elite City of Coventry swimming club in 1981 as director of coaching, before joining University College, Swansea, in 1983 as assistant director of PE.

Much of the sexual abuse occurred at the college's fitness centre, where Hickson targeted aspiring young swimmers who joined his advance training squad using the pool.

His work as chief national coach began in 1985 with the European Championships and later included World and Commonwealth championships.

Despite his achievements at Seoul, he was unexpectedly dropped from his position by the Great Britain swimming committee in late 1988. At the time he claimed he had been given "no real reason" for the change.

He left Swansea in autumn 1991 to become head of PE at Millfield public school in Somerset. Married for 26 years with an eight-year-old daughter, he and his wife Kathleen, a biology teacher, were made assistant house parents to girl pupils.

A year later he was suspended from the school and later sacked after being arrested by South Wales detectives investigating indecency allegations made by former members of his squad in Swansea.

The abuse had emerged when an officer whose daughter had been coached by Hickson heard rumours of his behaviour. An investigation then unravelled a catalogue of indecency and sex attacks spread over a 15-year period beginning in 1976.

Hickson emerged as a Svengali-like figure who cynically exploited his role to prey on dedicated youngsters. Most of his protegees suffered in silence, too scared to protest or afraid Hickson would drop them from competitions and end their chances of stardom.

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