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A Thai boxing instructor who had sex with an underage pupil and plied her with ecstasy as part of his six-year grooming campaign was jailed for three years today.
The offending began in the early 1990s after the 14-year-old girl signed up as a child student at the Leigh Thai Boxing Club near Bolton, which had been run by senior coach Robert Sharpley since 1985.
Sharpley, a married father-of-three, took advantage of the girl, who cannot be named, when he threw a party for his 34th birthday at his home in Westhoughton, Greater Manchester.
His wife was away at the time and he invited various students, including the girl.
Sharpley, who trained a string of British junior champions at his club in Leigh, kissed the child at the party, beginning the six-year grooming campaign.
When the girl was 15, he gave her half a tablet of Ecstasy at a nightclub and would go on to use drugs ‘as part of the grooming’ until it came to an end when the girl turned 20, Bolton Crown Court heard.
The victim, now in her 40s, had kept the abuse secret for two decades until she read about another Thai boxing coach who preyed on his students in 2018.
Sharpley, now 62 and living in Abergavenny in South Wales, was jailed for 42 months today after he admitted two charges of indecent assault. His wife of 34 years Catherine, 59, is standing by him.
Robert Sharpley seduced the 14-year-old girl, who cannot be named, on his 34th birthday when he threw a party at his home in Westhoughton, Greater Manchester
Robert Smith, prosecuting, had told the court: ‘He was married and 20 years older that her and she was a child student at his boxing club. Events began when he held a party to celebrate his… birthday at his house.
‘His wife was away at the time and he invited various students including the girl.
‘The defendant got into conversation with the girl and took her into the garden where he took hold of her and kissed her on the lips.
‘She did not object and was flattered by the attention as it made her feel grown up – although clearly she was still a child.
‘There was another incident after a boxing class when she went back to his house and his wife and children were there.
‘He showed her around the house and went upstairs into a bedroom where he locked the door and showed the girl photographs of his wife dressed in school uniform and a catalogue containing images of bondage gear. Nothing physical took place at that time but it was part of the grooming process.
At Bolton Crown Court, Sharpley, now 62 and currently living in Abergavenny in South Wales, was jailed for 42 months after he admitted two charges of indecent assault. His wife of 34 years Catherine, 59, is standing by him
‘Some time later, he persuaded her parents to [let her] babysit for him. She went to the address but found his wife and children were away.
‘He had several young men there from his roofing business and that night he gave her cannabis and during the evening, he took he upstairs and persuaded her to [perform a sex act].
‘Later he invited her to a club called Zone when she was 15. She had told her parents she was staying with a friend but she met up with the defendant.
‘It seems he was getting her to deceive her parents as to where she was going. At the club he gave her half a tablet of Ecstasy and was using drugs as part of the grooming.
‘They later had intercourse and it happened on various other occasions, This was a man who was her Thai boxing teacher sexually exploiting a young under-age girl.
‘She did not report matters until she read about the convictions of other Thai boxing instructors and she realised she was not alone. He was arrested in October 2018. He admitted having taught the girl but denied ever having a sexual relationship with her.’
Sharpley continued to deny wrongdoing but changed his plea on the day of trial. He had a previous conviction for drug dealing from 1994.
Defence counsel Mr Bunty Batra said Sharpley had been left partially paralysed by a brain haemorrhage in 2012 and had been unable to work since.
He added: ‘These offences are totally out of character and there is no evidence that he had a proclivity to commit sexual offences. Their meeting was organic and he accepts he was attracted to her. She did appear to him to be mature for her years. The relationship continued until it seemed to have died a natural death.
‘These offences occurred (more than 20) years ago when he was a young man and there has been a lot of water under the bridge since then and his life has very much moved on. he remains married and he has a wife who is very supportive of him.
‘He now has a genuine sense of regret and feels very stupid for what he did. He poses a low risk of offending and is entirely housebound.’
Sentencing Judge Martin Walsh told Sharpley: ‘She was a young student aged 14 or 15 and she was kissed by you on the lips as part of a grooming process. She was encouraged to attend at your house and was supplied with cannabis before sexual conduct took place.
‘She was effectively vulnerable by virtue of the fact that he was groomed by you in your capacity as a Thai boxing instructor. There was a degree of planning and a degree of grooming and it was a breach of trust at a time when you were her teacher and significantly older than her.’
Sharpley was also ordered to sign the Sex Offender Register for life.