Former swimming coach recorded children changing at pool, court told – The Irish Times
A former swimming coach will be sentenced later this month for sexual exploitation and producing child abuse materials.
Matthew Coward (32) of Shantalla Drive, Santry, Dublin, pleaded guilty to three counts of the sexual exploitation of three girls and a number of counts of production of child pornography on dates between September 1st, 2021, and February 26th, 2022. He has one previous conviction.
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court heard on Friday that one of the three girls broke down in her father’s car on the way home from swim practice and told him she thought she had been recorded while changing into her swimwear.
Garda Sergeant Shane Behan told Bernard Condon SC, prosecuting, that the first injured party had become upset on the way home from swimming practice and told her father that Coward gave her a pair of “swimming skins” to try on in his office and told her that she would need to get “completely naked” in order to try them on.
The girl noticed a phone propped up in Coward’s office and was worried that it may have recorded her. This particular type of swimwear can take up to 20 minutes to put on. She also told her father that other swimmers tried on “skins” in his office over a previous number of weeks.
Gda Sgt Behan said the girl’s father called Swim Ireland and spoke with Kate Hills, who was head of safeguarding.
The court heard that after speaking with the father of the first victim, Swim Ireland contacted Tusla and the gardaí. Coward was told that he was required to stand down as a coach, and he began to shake and said: “What have I done?”
Gda Sgt Behan said that three search warrants were obtained by gardaí and Coward was seen driving in an “erratic manner” after leaving a Dublin pool, including driving through a red light. Gardaí who were observing him stopped him and Coward handed over his electronic devices.
The court heard that the electronic devices were analysed and nearly 80 videos were found. Two of the videos were categorised as child abuse material, with a further seven deemed as inappropriate. The videos were categorised by the National Cyber Crime Unit as category two, which contained child nudity.
Other videos found on Coward’s devices showed children being filmed stretching in the swimming complex. Internet search histories also showed searches synonymous with teenage pornography.
Two of the three girls wrote victim impact statements, which were read to the court by Gda Sgt Behan. The first girl said: “From the moment I found the camera, my life changed”. She said she is “constantly afraid that he is trying to find me”.
“The main thing I have lost is trust. I find it hard to trust my new coaches” she said. “My lack of trust has also affected my friendships,” she added.
In her victim impact statement, the second girl said she “used to love swimming, but it has now become a burden”. She described Coward as “being like a father figure”. The girl has nightmares and said she doesn’t know “why this happened to me”.
The court heard that Coward was arrested on May 3rd, 2022, for child exploitation. He was detained and interviewed on several occasions. Mr Condon said the maximum sentence for child exploitation is life in prison, with 14 years the maximum for the production of child pornography.
Gda Sgt Behan agreed with James Dwyer, SC defending, that the guilty plea was of value to the three complainants involved.
Mr Dwyer said his client is currently living with his wife and children, and Tusla put a safety plan in place, with this referral now marked as “closed”. He gained employment with Starbucks and worked as a night manager to provide for his family.
Counsel said his client has expressed remorse and feels shameful for his actions.
The court heard Coward had written a letter to the court and the three injured parties who had family members present in court. The court was informed that the families did not want the apology read out, and they did not wish to receive copies.
Judge Orla Crowe said, “I am going to have to consider this matter as there is a lot of material to consider”. She remanded him on continuing bail and adjourned the case for finalisation to November 21st.