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Newbury Park tennis coach cleared of abusing daughters

PUBLISHED: 11:22 17 March 2017 | UPDATED: 11:44 17 March 2017

John De'Viana, 54, outside Snaresbrook Crown Court. He was cleared of two counts of child cruelty. (Credit: David Mirzoeff/PA)

John De'Viana, 54, outside Snaresbrook Crown Court. He was cleared of two counts of child cruelty. (Credit: David Mirzoeff/PA)

PA Wire/PA Images

A tennis coach father accused of mistreating his daughters for years in a mission to make them Wimbledon champions has been acquitted of child abuse.

John De’Viana was alleged to have beaten and punished his two daughters, Monaei and Nephe, when they failed to meet his performance standards.

But the 54-year-old told his trial that the pair had fabricated the claims to get back at him for walking out on the family in 2011.

Following a two-week trial at Snaresbrook Crown Court, De’Viana, of Brancaster Road, Newbury Park, was cleared on two counts of child abuse by unanimous verdict from a jury of seven men and five women.

As he left the dock, the defendant, wearing a dark, stripy shirt and a gilet, broke down in tears.

It took the jury less than an hour and a half to return the not guilty verdicts.

An emotional Mr De’Viana had to be assisted by court staff as he struggled to leave the dock.

The former karate champion had denied the many allegations of mistreatment made against him during the trial.

Mr De’Viana said his relationship with his children had soured when he left their mother, Michelle Horne.

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 on court, 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.

During his trial, he admitted 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 for “me and my shortcomings as a coach and a father”.

On several occasions during the trial, 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.”

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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