A YOUNG athlete whose career was shattered by mental illness following a relationship with her adult coach has backed a campaign to criminalise sex between trainers and under 18s.

Lara Gorman became involved with her 33-year-old coach John Dargie when she turned 16, triggering a spiral of depression and self-harm when he ended the relationship.

Read more: Appeal for change after girl had sex with coach

School teachers and social workers are legally prohibited from having sex with under 18s in their care but children’s charity NSPCC said this ban should be extended to sports coaches and youth workers.

Mr Dargie has also backed the campaign, insisting he made an error of judgment after his marriage broke down leaving him suicidal and vulnerable.

HeraldScotland:

The Scottish Government has said it may review current sexual offences legislation, and has written to all 52 sporting governing bodies urging them to “reflect on their current policies and practices on child protection”.

National sporting agency SportScotland said it would welcome a review, and Holyrood’s Health and Sport Committee has asked the Scottish Government for a formal response to NSPCC’s campaign.

Ms Gorman, now 25, feels Mr Dargie abused his position and is furious that he was allowed to return to coaching following an inquiry and a two year suspension by governing body Triathlon Scotland.

She began training under the former Glasgow Triathlon head coach when she was just 13, and she was quickly selected to represent Scotland in the Inter Regional Championships.

He made his first move in 2007 with a kiss at a Christmas party three months after Lara’s 16th birthday.

Read more: School teachers and social workers are covered by the law – but trainers are not

Ms Gorman, from Stirlingshire, said: “Even if he wasn’t a coach he still shouldn’t be doing that to a 16-year-old girl, but it’s even worse that he had that position of authority."

The relationship started shortly afterwards and the pair continued to meet for over 18 months. Mr Dargie urged Ms Gorman to keep their liaison secret, apparently aware that it was against club regulations.

In autumn 2009 she was selected for UK Sport’s Girls4Gold scheme, which singles out talented athletes for potential Olympic success, but she soon became emotionally withdrawn and began self harming.

HeraldScotland:

Photo credit: British Triathlon 

Two months later she quit the sport altogether and confessed to her parents that she had been having a sexual relationship with Mr Dargie, who they considered her trusted mentor.

Glasgow-based Mr Dargie said: “I understand why the NSPCC wants to change the law and I fully support that.

“Prior to the relationship I’d had a mental breakdown.

“On reflection now, in a position where I have vastly improved mental health, I consider myself at that time to have been a somewhat vulnerable adult who had a relationship with an adult female.

“Had such a relationship been illegal it would not have happened.”

Read more: Dargie says he had breakdown and attempted suicide before relationship

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The safety and wellbeing of children in Scotland is a top priority, and we all have a duty to protect them and raise concerns when necessary. We continue to work closely with sportscotland and other partners, including the NSPCC, to consider what actions are required to further strengthen the child protection system in sport.

“The Minister for Public Health and Sport recently wrote to all 52 sport governing bodies to ask them to reflect on their current policies and practices on child protection and to offer to work together to further develop our child protection system.

“We always keep the law under review to ensure it is appropriate. The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Act 2009 (Part 5) was based on a Scottish Law Commission set of recommendations which were consulted upon. We are happy to give this matter further consideration.”

A SportScotland spokesman said: “In light of the horrific allegations of historic child abuse in football, the Scottish Government and SportScotland have been engaged in discussions with sport governing bodies, Children 1st, and NSPCC Scotland about ways to further strengthen the child protection system in Scottish sport.

“All 50 SGBs which we invest in are reviewing their policies and practices in this area, including their code of conduct for coaches. In addition, the Scottish Government and Disclosure Scotland are undertaking a review of the PVG scheme and enforcement around the legislation.”

Read more: Lara Gorman’s disturbing case demonstrates need to close legal loophole for under-18s

Matt Forde, national head for NSPCC Scotland said: “It’s remarkable that the roles like sports coaches are not considered to be a position of trust by law, given the significant amount of responsibility, influence and authority that an individual in this role can hold in a young person’s life.

“Sadly, we know that this trust can be abused and it is therefore vital that this legal definition is widened to include sports coaches and other youth workers, bolstering protection for teenagers at risk of grooming once they pass the age of consent.

“This is not about demonising certain jobs, but about protecting young people from a small minority of adults only too happy to take advantage of their standing in society to groom and abuse vulnerable children.”