Daughters at centre of cruelty claims against Newbury Park tennis coach ‘had fire inside them’

John De'Viana, 54, outside Snaresbrook Crown Court. He was cleared of two counts of child cruelty. (

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

The tennis player daughters of a coach accused of serial abuse had “the fire inside” them and were not forced to train, a court has heard.

John De’Viana, 54, of Brancaster Road, Newbury Park, is alleged to have spent years hurting and humiliating his children in a mission to propel them to sporting stardom.

Both girls, Monaei and Nephe, grew to be among the most promising young players in the country, but quit once their father left the family, his trial heard.

But the defendant’s friend of 37 years, who helped train the pair, denied their talent was cultivated through duress and cruelty.

Eric Piispa, 55, told Snaresbrook Crown Court: “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.”

The 54-year-old, of Ilford, east London, denies two counts of child cruelty.

Tana Adkin QC, defending, asked: “Did you see anything which indicates they hated tennis or did not want to play tennis?”

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Mr Piispa replied: “No, never, their attitude was good, they were involved in training, they were doing their morning routines, their evening routines, they did that by themselves.”

Ms Adkin continued: “Is it possible to reach that level in a sport you hate?”

The witness said: “No, because to reach that level in tennis you have to practice every day and you have to make sure you do all your routines. This is a sport you had to practice four to five hours a day to reach a high level.”

He added: “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 replied.

The Finnish sports coach, who has worked with Olympic-calibre athletes, claimed he saw no signs of mistreatment or abuse directed at the girls, whom he met around four times a year.

In Helsinki, Finland, he helped run athletic tests on both girls to aid performance and recovery, the court heard.

Asked if he ever saw bruising on either child, he said: “No.”

Mr Piispa added: “All the flexibility tests that we did after the fracture (on Monaei’s ankle), you can see a change in the range of movements if they were bruised or injured or anything happened.”

Another Finnish coach, Nika Sarri, was also asked if he spotted bruising on the body of Monaei, now 21, and Nephe, now 19.

He told the court: “Not bigger ones, just the normal ones that come from tight muscles and a training programme.”

Among the catalogue of abuse claims levelled at De’Viana were that he spat at his daughters and wrote “L for loser” on Monaei’s head when she underperformed at the age of nine or 10.

In another incident, he allegedly kicked and punched Nephe, then aged around 12, behind a curtain in a sports centre, covering her mouth to muffle the screams.

The trial continues.