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Cleared tennis coach 'will always love' daughters who accused him of abuse

A tennis coach father acquitted of child abuse against the daughters he was training to be sports stars has said he will "always love" them.

John De'Viana had been accused of physically and emotionally mistreating his children, Monaei and Nephe, over the years he spent training them.

But it took a jury of seven men and five women less than an hour and a half to find him not guilty on two counts of child abuse.

Outside Snaresbrook Crown Court, his solicitor, Daniel Salter, said in a statement: "This has been a difficult and upsetting time for Mr De'Viana, particularly seeing his daughters giving evidence.

"As their father rather than their coach, he loves them and will always love them.

"He hopes that one day he can speak to them about what has happened."

Mr De'Viana broke down in the dock as the verdicts were read out by the jury foreman.

After his acquittal, he walked to the waiting press pack with the help of a walking stick.

His solicitor said: "Despite the police investigating in 2011, he has had to face these allegations yet again and they have finally been dismissed.

"Having been involved in sports for most of his life and devoted so much to sports coaching, not just with his daughters, he would not want parents and coaches to be dissuaded from working in sport."

At his trial, the 54-year-old said the two girls fabricated the allegations to get back at him for walking out on the family in 2011.

The former karate champion claimed his relationship with them soured when he left their mother, Michelle Horne.

But, when asked in court, he repeatedly denied the many allegations of mistreatment made against him.

On several occasions Mr De'Viana was asked why he believed the girls had pressed criminal charges against him.

"I have my theories," he said

"I didn't give them the courtesy of an explanation when I left, they are not feeling too good towards me.

"I can only assume they are pretty upset with me as a father."

Under his guidance, the girls grew to be two of the country's most promising young talents, with Nephe even appearing alongside Andy Murray on an advert.

They quit tennis shortly after their father left, despite having a future in the sport, jurors were told.

Mr De'Viana was said to have become transfixed with making his daughters into tennis superstars after he retired from karate.

He started Monaei hitting balls when she was just 10 months old and pulled both girls out of education before secondary school to allow for practice.

He admitted in court to writing foul-mouthed performance notes when he was not satisfied with how they were playing.

One referred to Monaei, now 21, as a "f****** idiot" and another said Nephe, now 19, was a "f****** dog".

He told the jury he simply used the strong language to "emphasise certain points" in his mind and the girls never saw them.

He said when he appeared to be addressing them directly, he was actually talking to himself, saying they were meant to highlight "me and my shortcomings as a coach and a father".

It was suggested to Ms Horne by Tana Adkin QC, defending, that she had lied in evidence about the allegations to aid a battle around contact with her daughters.

She said: "You have tried throughout giving your evidence to rewrite the childhood of your two girls.

"You have tried to present it as cruelty during tennis training when it was nothing of the sort."

A string of witnesses, ranging from coaches to family members, denied ever seeing Mr De'Viana mistreat the girls.

Geoff Thompson, who worked with the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) , said: "John has a passive style, which is ideally suited to working with young children."

Several people also claimed the girls did not appeared to be pursuing their athletic ambitions under duress.

Finnish coach Eric Piispa, who worked with them over many years, said: "If you don't have the motivation there is no development. It is the fire inside or it is not."

"Did they have the fire?" the defence asked.

"I saw it - they had the fire," he responded, adding: "John is very calm, very kind, lovely, not aggressive, not even in passing, he can always think what to say, he is calm, not at all like the allegations."

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