Wayne Groves kept silent about the sex abuse he endured at the hands of a Croydon football coach for three decades.
Evidence that he provided last month, helped convict 66-year-old David Hughes, who was found guilty of 14 offences against four boys aged between eight and 15.
Wayne is now determined to speak out to help others who have suffered a similar fate and start the healing process.
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He was first attacked by Hughes when he was playing in the New Addington Little League in Croydon, South London.
Hughes was a respected coach and a big presence in the local football community.
Speaking to The Mirror, Wayne said Hughes targeted his victims, picking on the most vulnerable.
He said: “David knew how to talk to kids, he knew the sort of children with poor backgrounds he’d target, and it would escalate.
“He took me to watch Jurassic Park at the cinema and bought me an away Manchester United strip, things my family couldn’t afford. His nickname was Apple because he had a big Adam’s apple – all the kids would call him Apple.
“I knew he was a bit weird, and it was an ongoing thing on my council estate that he was a bit of a funny guy around young men. But no one ever took it seriously – it was kind of the elephant in the room.
“And it was a different time. People didn’t take those kinds of jokes as seriously then and that’s how he was able to get away with it for so long. I have spent a long time wondering why no one questioned it and, as a father now, it does make me question it.”
(Image: Croydon Advertiser)
Wayne saw Hughes up to three times a week in his local youth centre and was invited to his house at least once a fortnight.
He revealed that his parents believed him to be “good with the kids” and trusted him to look after their son.
“He would take me to youth clubs about five to 10 miles away. He’d orchestrate it so I’d be late home.
“I was scared of being late, but my parents didn’t know where I was half the time, so I’d call and say I was staying at a friend’s house.
“Back in the day it was quite different and I don’t think there was a suspicion there was anything untoward happening. I just wanted to play football.”
He detailed how the abuse would occur in his home and would usually involve trying on football kits.
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“I remember being frozen in the foetal position, facing the wall, like a rabbit in headlights. He would apply body lotion to me and I would do the same to him. Then he would touch me and cuddle me.”
The abuse continued for two years until Wayne lost interest in football and moved away from the area.
In 2012 his partner convinced him to come forward and he contacted the police who took a statement from him.
He said that was the last he heard from them and didn’t have the strength to chase them up.
In 2016 footballers, including England and Tottenham star Paul Stewart, began to come forward and talk about abuse they suffered from coaches when they were children.
On December 21, 2018, Hughes was arrested and was found to be carrying a black holdall with him which contained children’s underwear.
In October this year, Wayne went to Croydon Crown Court to give evidence to a jury about his horrifying experience, coming face to face with Hughes for the first time in decades.
“He didn’t seem fazed at all, I couldn’t picture him in my head before – now that’s all I see.”
He says he fears there will be more of Hughes victims who have never come forward.
He added: “People say it’s all finished now but it’s just the beginning.
“I hope for some good to come of this and that’s what my goal is – to help others in need. I want to use my life to empower them to speak out. It may bring people forward to disclose what David did to them.”
“Maybe I can help them to deal with their abuse. With a support network more people will get found out, like David, and that’ll encourage fewer people to go down that path.”
Hughes was found guilty of 10 counts of indecent assault on three boys aged eight to 13, two counts of sexual activity with a boy aged 13 to 15, and two counts of causing the same boy aged 13 to 15 to engage in sexual activity.
He was remanded to be sentenced on November 25.