Stress 'led to suicide': Call for inquiry into athletics boss over claims that journalist harassed track star

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The Independent Online
AN INQUIRY has been demanded into the actions of Andy Norman, the most powerful man in British athletics, after claims that he wrongly accused a sports journalist of sexually harassing a woman athlete.

The journalist, Cliff Temple, a highly respected athletics correspondent for the Sunday Times, was investigating Mr Norman at the time. Temple, who was also a leading coach, later committed suicide. Colleagues believe the stress caused by the allegations contributed to his death.

Temple, 46, was found beside a railway track in Kent last Saturday. He had been hit by a train.

He was treated for depression last year after a divorce; his wife had moved out of the family home with their four children to live with another man. He also had financial worries.

Last year Mr Temple wrote an article about the role of Mr Norman, the promotions officer of the British Athletics Federation. As national selector, promoter, paymaster, and agent - for such top athletes as Linford Christie and Colin Jackson - Mr Norman, 50, is considered to have unrivalled control of the sport.

Part of Temple's investigation concerned allegations that Mr Norman had given favourable treatment to athletes who joined a club formed by his fiancee, the former javelin champion Fatima Whitbread. In July, shortly before publication of the critical article, Mr Norman telephoned Temple at home.

In the conversation, of which the Sunday Times has a recording, Mr Norman insinuated that an allegation might be spread that Temple had sexually harassed Shireen Bailey, a 1,500-metre Olympic finalist he had coached.

Mr Norman said that someone might 'have a go about Miss Bailey', and continued: 'I wouldn't want to see that allegation made.'

When asked what he meant, Mr Norman said: 'Sexual harassment. You know what the fucking hell I'm talking about if you want me to spell it out. Right? The lady made complaints in certain areas and we'll leave it at that.'

Mr Norman later said 'an athlete' had made the complaints. 'You know who made complaints. But I'm not threatening you, I'm just pointing you out hard facts of life, that some people don't sit back because they've been achievers, they don't sit back and take it on the chin. 'Miss Whitbread has never taken it on the chin. All she wants is an easy life. I don't want to start getting into nastiness. Me, I'm not that sort of person - you know that.'

Temple played the tape recording to several sports journalists in the car park at Crystal Palace athletics stadium in south London on 10 September after the IAAF grand prix final. He asked them to keep the contents secret, but was clearly very worried and disturbed by what had been said. He became increasingly depressed about the matter, say fellow journalists.

Other sports writers and coaches say that Mr Norman made the allegations to them. On one occasion in front of a group of journalists, he said to Temple who had accidentally brushed against his shoulder, 'Don't touch me, you pervert.'

Shireen Bailey has said she never made a complaint about Temple and she denied all allegations of sexual harassment. 'He was a lovely, sensitive man,' she said.

In a suicide note, Temple denied the allegations of harassment.

One other journalist claims to have been wrongly accused by Mr Norman of sexually harassing sportswomen. Steven Downes, one of the researchers into the 1992 BBC On the Line documentary Norman's Conquests says that Mr Norman accused him of sexually harassing young swimmers, an allegation which he denies.

Several official investigations have taken place over allegations - which Mr Norman has denied - that he has abused his position of power.

The most famous dispute was with his former friend Steve Ovett, who claimed, after losing to Sebastian Coe in the 1989 AAA championships in Birmingham, that Mr Norman had offered him pounds 20,000 to take part.

Athletes were not supposed to receive money for championships. Mr Norman denied the accusations.

The Sunday Times complained to the British Athletic Federation last July that Mr Norman was making allegations about Temple. The federation acknowledged the letter but did not formally respond.

Federation officers, including the executive chairman, Peter Radford, and the treasurer, John Lister, held a meeting with Mr Norman in September. Tony Ward, the BAF spokesman said: 'There was no denial (from Norman). Andy gave an undertaking that he would cease such activities forthwith and, as far as anyone in the Federation knows, that has been adhered to.

'Undoubtedly the matter will be discussed again. Obviously we are concerned about anything of this nature. It doesn't do the federation's reputation any good.'

The British Athletics Writers' Association will tomorrow ask Peter Radford to carry out a new investigation.

The federation has said it will wait until Temple's funeral has been held tomorrow and the result of the inquest has been announced before meeting again. Kent coroner's office have already requested from the federation details of any inquiries it has made since July.

Mr Norman was due to be at the Ramada Hotel, Heathrow, yesterday morning for a British team selection meeting, but changed his schedule. 'Andy is not coming,' said Tony Ward. 'He is not available for comment.'

(Photograph omitted)

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