DISGRACED Olympic coach Paul Hickson was the man behind Britain's

glittering swimming success at the Seoul Games.

His record-breaking 1988 squad had seven Olympic finalists, and

included stars like Adrian Moorhouse and Nick Gillingham, who scooped

three golds, silver and bronze medals.

As schools' swimming co-ordinator in Norfolk, he developed

international competitors like David Stacey, Karen Mellor and Paul


But today that illustrious career is in ruins amid the shame of his

secret years of sex assaults on young female athletes.

An alert off-duty policeman finally exposed the ordeal young swimmers

were suffering at Hickson's hands.

Leicester-born Hickson, a former county swimming champion, became

Britain's best-known figure in the sport after his promotion to chief

coach for the Seoul Olympics.

Hickson's work as chief national coach began in 1985 with the European

Championships, and later included World and Commonwealth championships.

But despite his achievements at the Seoul Games, he was unexpectedly

axed by the Great Britain swimming committee in late 1988.

At the time, he claimed he had been given ''no real reason'' for the


In 1983 he joined University College, Swansea, as assistant director

of PE.

It was there that much of the sexual abuse was carried out on young

swimmers who joined his advance training squad.

He left Swansea in the autumn of 1991 to become head of PE at the top

Millfield public school in Somerset.

Married for 26 years, he and biology teacher wife Kathleen were also

appointed assistant house parents to girl pupils.

A year later, he was suspended from the school and later sacked after

being arrested by South Wales detectives investigating indecency

allegations made by eight former members of his Swansea advanced

training squad.

But while awaiting his September 1993 trial at Swansea Crown Court,

Hickson absconded to Lille in northern France, where he held a job

teaching English to businessmen.

After detectives made appeals for information and showed his

photograph on BBC TV's Crimewatch, other former swimmers came forward

with allegations which led to further charges.

South Wales police made worldwide inquiries to trace him and the

shamed coach was rearrested in Sherwood Forest after 15 months on the


Police had been tipped off when Hickson arrived in a French-registered

car at the Center Parcs leisure complex in Sherwood Forest,

Nottinghamshire, where he planned to spend Christmas with his family.

In court, Hickson claimed he stayed in France to earn money to support

his wife Kathleen and daughter Amy, 8, who lived near Glastonbury.

He was also concerned that defence lawyers did not have enough time to

prepare his case.

His escape, recapture, trial and subsequent imprisonment all came

about after a South Wales police officer, attending a social event,

heard rumours about the coach's perverted behaviour.

He wrote a report to senior officers, naming four young women as

possible contacts.

He had personal reasons to be concerned, because his own sports-mad

daughter, a promising swimmer, was at one time in Hickson's advanced

training squad.

His report was followed up by a team of detectives, who began

extensive but discreet inquiries.

Over the next few months, officers unravelled a grotesque catalogue of

indecency and sex attacks, spread over a 15-year period beginning in


Mr Wyn Williams QC, who prosecuted at Cardiff Crown Court, told the

jury: ''This is a classic case of a person in authority abusing their


The three-week trial heard from 13 women who came forward to accuse

Hickson of sexual assaults while they were at school or college.

He denied two charges of rape, 13 indecent assaults and two further

serious sexual offences.

Nine complainants gave evidence of his indecency during the unorthodox

''fitness and fatness'' tests he devised at University College, Swansea,

where he was assistant director of Physical Education.

He used to order them to take off their bikini tops or bras before

touching their breasts and committing other assaults.

A former national champion recalled how Hickson sexually attacked her

when she was 16, while giving massages for a muscle injury. She said the

coach also attacked her in a hotel bedroom after a swimming competition

in Barnet, north London.

The woman, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, said she did

not tell her parents because she was afraid her career would be

finished: ''My swimming meant everything. If I had told my father, I

would not have had Mr Hickson as a coach any more.

''I was the best in the country, my swimming was improving. I just

thought it would not happen again. In my eyes he was brilliant and I

respected him.''

A 14-year-old who endured his assaults said she was too frightened to

complain because he threatened to spread untrue rumours that she was

having sex with her boyfriend.

Another top swimmer said that, when she was 15, he tried to rape her

on a changing-room table before committing another sexual act against


She was left too dazed and frightened to tell anybody. ''He said that

I wasn't to tell anyone because I could get him into trouble. I didn't

want him to get into trouble.''

Another woman, now 32, described how Hickson frequently raped her at

his home during school lunch breaks -- the first time when she was 13.

The coach later persuaded her reluctant mother to put her on the Pill,

saying it would boost her swimming performance.

But the real reason, she said, was that Hickson could force her to

have sex whenever he wanted without her getting pregnant.

Another victim said: ''He seemed thoroughly respected by parents and

as a swimming coach I thought he was good. But the effect was that I

just hated going swimming.

''I thought it was just happening to me, I did not realise it was

happening all over the place.''