A top tennis coach lied about the amount of time she was spending with her 13-year-old pupil, a court heard today.
Former Wimbledon competitor Claire Lyte, 29, is accused of having a lesbian relationship with the teenager, a pupil at the Lawn Tennis Association Academy.
Today Simon Jones, the LTA’s national academy manager at the time of the alleged relationship, told Liverpool Crown Court he received reports that Lyte had become too close to the pupil and they were seen to be spending too much time together. He began his evidence by telling the court about LTA policy on how much time young players and their coaches should spend together.
He said: "The ethos I had was that I didn’t want players to have their coaches with them all the time. In tennis, unless you are a multi-million-pound player at the top of the world game, coaches wouldn’t be there all the time. It is not like football, where there is a constant coaching presence.
"A large part of the development of a young tennis player is giving them some independence. If a coach was constantly attending to the player, I would regard it as impeding the development of the player."
It was claimed in court earlier that Lyte was offering to look after the 13-year-old when the youngster’s mother had to leave the country to deal with a family tragedy. It has also been suggested that coach and pupil shared a bedroom during tennis tournaments.
Mr Jones, now employed by the LTA as player support manager at its national centre in Roehampton, south west London, told the jury Lyte had requested to spend more time with the teenager and lied to him about how much time she had already spent with the youngster.
He said: "I was very angry because Claire had been seeing the girl more than I would have wanted her to and the text, in which she said she had seen her just once that season, was not truthful. I sat down with Claire to read her the riot act about it.
"I recall Claire talking about her closeness with the girl and she said to me at time ’I’m too young with them’."
He said he took it to mean she was not clear about the boundaries between being a figure of authority and being one of them. He said there had been concerns about her closeness with a number of players at the academy for the previous 12-months.
Colleagues were worried that she was constantly taking the side of young players over the staff, spending too much time with them on the tennis court when they should have been in school or physical training, and spending too much time with them outside of the tennis court.
He said: "The end result of this meeting was that I became more angry than ever before. I told her she had got to be very, very careful because if it continued, we would take it further."
Days later, it is alleged, Lyte and the child were found naked in bed at the youngster’s Merseyside home.
Mr Jones said he went to play at an international tennis tournament in Switzerland, but when he returned two weeks later, he said Lyte’s behaviour was "as bad as ever". He said after consultations with LTA staff it was decided to put Lyte through an internal disciplinary process.
Shortly afterwards, Mr Jones said he received a call from Colin Lyte, the defendant’s father. He said: "Claire Lyte’s father phoned. Naturally it was a strange call because we were going to have Claire at this disciplinary hearing.
"I didn’t disclose the details about what it was about. He asked me if it was ’something of a sexual nature’, is it ’you know what?"’
Mr Jones rejected a suggestion from David Mason, defending, that Colin Lyte was actually referring to a relationship his daughter was having with a male member of the academy’s coaching staff.
At that stage the LTA was unaware that the child’s mother claimed the teenager and Lyte were having sex. Mr Jones said he issued the coach with a written warning about her behaviour and she was told to go on a teacher training course.
Earlier, the child’s mother was recalled before the jury and asked about text messages allegedly found on the teenager’s mobile phone.
The messages, the court heard yesterday, were from Claire Lyte’s mother’s mobile phone, although the number was listed as "Craig" in the address book. They included one saying: "I love you, I want to be with you."
The teenager’s mother was asked if she recalled being given the number by Mrs Lyte at a meeting and she said "No."
Judge Nigel Gilmour then asked the mother if she had ever had a friend, relative or boyfriend called Craig, and she again said "No."
The defence claims the allegations have been invented by the mother, who was upset that the young girl's tennis career was coming to an end.
Leighton Alfred, a former coach of Tim Henman and head coach at the Loughborough academy, was asked to monitor the relationship between Lyte and the girl for signs of inappropriate behaviour.
He began his evidence by describing Lyte as "ambitious and very motivated". He said she took her role as coach very seriously and he had encouraged her to take time away from tennis to recharge her batteries.
He said: "There was a perception from people that Claire was spending too much time with this girl.
"Coaching takes place on and off the court but people were saying it was too much."
On October 3, 2005, a day after the child's mother says she found her daughter naked and having sex with Lyte, Mr Alfred remonstrated with the coach after he found her and the girl talking in an isolated part of the tennis academy.
Mr Alfred said: "I was looking for Claire and found her with the girl on the balcony overlooking the tennis courts. They were talking and I would rather Claire had done it in not such a secluded place. I would have preferred a classroom or corridor.
"I asked Claire what she was doing and she said she was charging the girl's mobile phone because there were no plug sockets available inside. So I went to look and there were plug sockets available. That annoyed me. I took Claire into my office and said 'You lied to me'.
"She said she was sorry but that the girl was having problems at home, she was unhappy with her mother and she was distressed. I then spoke privately to the girl as it was obvious to me she was uncomfortable.
"At times she could be quite distressed and my first priority was for her welfare. I wanted to find out what problems were at home. She said she was having difficulty with her family. She said she was unable to speak to her mother about her father.
"She said she had never met her father and she wanted to meet him but her mother wouldn't let her."
As time progressed, the youngster complained to Mr Alfred that Lyte was being unpleasant to her during training sessions. He told the court: "The girl felt aggrieved by Claire, she felt Claire was not rewarding her or recognising her achievements.
"I think the mother felt that I was trying to get the girl out of the academy, which was absolutely not the case.
"I said to the mother that perhaps Loughborough was not the right place for her daughter. The mother would get quite defensive. All the time I was giving the girl herself the opportunity to say what she wanted."
Asked if the girl's behaviour was that of a typical teenager at the academy, he said: "It was more of a concern for me than with most other players. Most of the students wanted to go home at the weekend. This girl didn't want to go home."
Educationalist Neeharika Gupta, of Leicestershire County Council, was attached to the academy to oversee the schooling of the young players. Miss Gupta told the court of an incident when she used the women's toilet at the academy.
She said of the three cubicles, the one on the left was in use and she used the middle, leaving the final cubicle empty. While inside the middle cubicle, she said she heard somebody leave the left cubicle and leave the toilet without washing their hands.
She said: ""They walked past my cubicle and I heard the squeak of trainers and the rustle of a tracksuit, it was quite distinctive. As I washed my hands, I was surprised to see the cubicle door was still locked so I went back to my desk and a few minutes later, the young girl left the toilet.
"I was puzzled so I walked out to see if anybody else was around - it was quite late and I expected to be alone in the building - at which point Claire Lyte walked past me.
"She was in tracksuit bottoms, they were particularly noisy, that is when it struck me."
Miss Gupta said she believed Lyte and the girl were in the cubicle together and she reported the matter to Mr Jones
The trial resumes on Monday.