Charlie Webster details horrific abuse from running coach

TV presenter Charlie Webster breaks down as she reveals how she was sexually abused at 15 by a running coach who lured her to a private session with the promise of helping her with bladder control issues

  • TV presenter Charlie, 38, was 15 when her running coach sexually assaulted her 
  • When Charlie was 19 their coach Paul North was sentenced to ten years in prison
  • In a new BBC documentary she tracks down other members of the running club 
  • In emotional scenes she broke down in tears while recalling the horrific assault 

TV presenter Charlie Webster broke down in tears as she recalled the horrific abuse she faced at the hands of her running coach in a new BBC documentary.

At the age of 15, the presenter was abused by her athletics coach, Paul North, who was convicted of multiple counts of sexual assault and one count of rape in 2002 and jailed for ten years. 

In new BBC documentary Nowhere to Run: Abused by Our Coach, she detailed the first time North assaulted her, suggesting a private session to help improve her continence. 

Charlie, 38, was living with a violent and controlling stepfather and would sometimes wet herself in her bedroom rather than going to the toilet, meaning she faced issues with her bladder function. 

She recalled being ‘frozen’ with fear as North sexually abused her, and said that because the assault was not ‘done in a violent way’ it was more difficult to spot, adding that ‘people can’t spot the bruises in your head’. 

In new BBC documentary Nowhere to Run: Abused by Our Coach, Charlie Webster broke down in tears as she recalled the horrific abuse she faced at the hands of her running coach

At the age of 15, the presenter was abused by her athletics coach, Paul North, (left) who was convicted of multiple counts of sexual assault and one count of rape in 2002 and jailed for ten years

‘I used to need the toilet a lot, it really stems from home because I was really scared of my stepdad so sometimes I wouldn’t go to the toilet and I would wet myself in my room’, she said. 

‘Going to the toilet became a really bad thing for me, it became a problem in training. My coach approached me about that, he said to me “I know you’ve got difficulty with going to the toilet, the problem is the muscles around your bladder are weak. I know what’s going to help you”.

‘I was so desperate for somebody to take that away, this was the first time he told me to take my pants off and moved my knickers with one hand and with quite a lot of pressure and put his fingers inside me. 

‘I remember thinking “This is not nice, this is uncomfortable but this is going to help me, this is going to solve that problem”.’

She became emotional as she said: ‘I think sometimes I would just be frozen with “What is this, what am I supposed to do?” and just focus on the ceiling. 

She recalled being ‘frozen’ with fear as North sexually abused her, and said that because the assault was not ‘done in a violent way’ it was more difficult to spot, adding that ‘people can’t spot the bruises in your head’

Charlie had cut off all contact with the girls from her running club in Sheffield (pictured) but decided to track them down and contact them in the BBC documentary 

‘I just would take myself away I think. He just talked to me the whole time, I’d almost wish it had been done in a violent way, because then it wouldn’t have been so confusing and people would spot the bruises, people don’t spot the bruises in your head. I felt so, so alone.’  

Charlie never told any of her friends in the running club, some of whom where also being abused by North, and says that it ‘became my own secret that I pushed really far down’.   

He was arrested when Charlie was 19 and she recalled reading a newspaper article detailing his crimes: ‘It was only then I realised I wasn’t the only one he had abused. I just felt utter embarrassment.’  

She added later: ‘Over the years my coach really got in my head. I knew it was wrong but I didn’t know what to call it. I was only after reading the newspaper when I was 19 I understood that he groomed and abused me too’. 

Charlie had cut off all contact with the girls from her running club in Sheffield, but decided to contact them after receiving an email from the mother of one of her friends, saying her daughter had also been abused by the coach.  

A friend of Charlie’s, who wished to remain anonymous, was raped in her own home after North came over for a ‘private session’

‘We were thick as thieves and would hang around at mainly her house and listen to Lauren Hill’, said Charlie. ‘I can’t believe we were both being abused and we didn’t know. Why didn’t we ever tell anyone? Why did I never tell anyone?’   

The friend, who wished to remain anonymous, was raped in her own home after North came over for a ‘private session’. 

Her mother said: ‘Why was he allowed to train on his own and take them for private sessions? I think that’s how it started for her, he started massaging her legs and it obviously got worse until he raped her. 

‘She’s never got over it, never, she’s not had a life for 20 years. He got a prison sentence but still came out and lived his life, my daughter has never had that. I will take it to my grave and my daughter will take it to her grave.’ 

Charlie also chatted to her mother about the abuse, admitting that after she initially revealed the trauma it was never spoken about again and ‘pushed away, like it never happened’. 

Her mother admitted that their abusive stepfather made it difficult for the pair to speak properly about the issue, confessing: it was ‘difficult to spot because of everything that was going on in the home, it was very difficult to spot.’  

Charlie met up with Becky Lyne (pictured) , who went on to represent Great Britain and won a bronze medal in the 800 metres at the 2006 European Athletics Championships

Charlie also met up with Rosie (pictured) the person who first notified the police of North’s abuse and testified against him in court

She added later: ‘When you first told me this happened I did feel really guilty, I was cross with myself for not seeing that.’ 

The presenter told how North had framed so the ‘private sessions’ appeared to be for her own benefit, saying that she thought individual coaching would make her ‘stronger and faster’. 

‘My coach was the caretaker of a primary school. I remember him saying it would be good for you to do some private sessions, that will help you I can put more time into you. 

‘I thought I was doing really well at that point, I remember saying to my mum, “I need to do private sessions, it will make me stronger and faster”. So I started doing private sessions with him in the school hall. 

‘I used to train in that room and do circuits and weight training and hundreds of burps and then the session became about massage. We would go into one of the classrooms, I would lie back on the table and that’s how it started really. 

‘It was always positioned as for my own benefit. They were private lessons, I was paying for these private lessons’. 

She also met up with Becky Lyne, who went on to represent Great Britain and won a bronze medal in the 800 metres at the 2006 European Athletics Championships.  

The presenter told how North had framed so the ‘private sessions’ appeared to be for her own benefit, saying that she thought individual coaching would make her ‘stronger and faster’

Becky was not abused by North and admitted she was shocked at the allegations when she initially heard them, and became emotional as she recalled members of the group having ‘meltdowns’ on a training trip to the Spanish mountains. 

‘I just remember there were quite a few incidents on the camp where girls where having little meltdowns and I just thought they were homesick or a bit tired from training and getting all emotional and not wanting to train and seeming quite afraid’. 

‘There was one time on the camp where I can kind of see now, I think a girl was trying to say something and let me know and I was just so oblivious.’  

She also met with the family of a member of the team called Georgina, a close friend  of Charlie’s who tragically took her own life when she was just 18. 

Her mother Jean said: ‘When she came back from Spain she definitely changed, I said “What’s happened, what’s the problem?” and she said she’d had a really bad argument with Paul and she didn’t want to go anymore. 

‘I’ve always felt something had happened, she stopped going fairly quickly after that. The fact she wanted to stop doing her running was quite a surprise really, she was so into it. 

‘I lost her at that point really you sort of couldn’t get to her really. She got more and more depressed and she overdosed.’ 

Charlie also met up with Rosie, the person who first notified the police of North’s abuse and testified against him in court. 

The documentary ended with Charlie finally meeting up with her running group, and Georgina’s mother, to discuss their experiences

‘I remember being absolutely terrified, she said. ‘I knew it wasn’t right but essentially you’ve been groomed so it’s not like you can be like “This is wrong”. It’s not something you can explain to people’.

Charlie asked: ‘Does it sink in that it’s because of you, you did prevent a lot of other people from being abused.‘

She responded: ‘A little bit and it is the biggest thing in life I am the most proud of. I suppose I had a good outcome from it all, as good as it could be, at least I got a bit of closure.

‘I wanted to show it can happen, you can be believed and they can get long sentences for what they’ve done.’

The documentary ended with Charlie finally meeting up with her running group to discuss their experiences, and the presenter said she decided to make the film in order to prevent abuse in the future. 

‘I just want to make sure nobody else goes through it’, she said. ‘That’s what I just wanted to do and for people to understand why, to really understand why this has to stop. The people that ignore or cover up, this is what you’re ignoring and covering up.’ 

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