A boys’ football coach is facing the rest of his life in jail after being convicted of dozens of sex attacks on children, including nine rapes.
Stephen Walker, 68, preyed on his young players and others over more than 40 years. His youngest victim was six.
He was not charged until 2019, but several police forces, the Football Association, and social services had investigated him long before without managing to stop him.
Walker, a former police cadet, ran several youth football teams around the border of Surrey and South London. During his trial, he said: "I coached thousands of kids."
Prosecutor Ed Vickers QC told jurors: "He systematically gained their trust or groomed them, sexually abused them in various ways, and then in most cases threatened them or made them feel ashamed or guilty so that they would never tell anyone what he had done to them.
"For some the abuse may have been a contributing factor to subsequent mental health issues; for all, they have had to live with the trauma of their experiences for the rest of their lives. It has taken many years for some of them to come forward.
"One or two made allegations some years ago, but little or no action was taken against Mr Walker, and for a long time he must have thought he had got away with it."
Victim Paul Scates said his parents became friends with Walker and his family. Walker molested him first when he was eight years old and the attacks continued for many years.
He said: "It’s ruined my life. We talk about being survivors, sometimes we thrive. I was eight, my life was taken at eight. My soul was crippled. It happened every time we had contact.
"We’re talking hundreds of times, varying from fondling to more indecent violation and then rape. The reason I never said anything was because he threatened to kill my family."
Mr Scates, 40, said he first reported Walker in 1997, to Surrey Police and then to Surrey social services, but no action was taken.
He said in 2001 the Football Association contacted him after a complaint from another victim, but he heard no more from the FA.
In 2007, Mr Scates told Dorset Police that Walker had abused him and his allegations were passed to police in Surrey, where most of the abuse happened.
Walker was arrested, but again no action was taken as the Crown Prosecution Service decided there was not enough evidence to charge him.
Mr Scates said a Surrey detective broke the news to him and suggested that few, if any, other victims had been interviewed.
"So I said to the detective, what you’re saying is you’ve only spoken to me and the perpetrator? Then he said ‘yes and Mr Walker, when he was interviewed, called you a dirty little…’ and I’m thinking that I’m the victim, why are you telling me what he’s saying about me, which were really nasty hideous things, and you know what, that felt worse in a way.
"I thought these agencies were there to protect children, but what I experienced was services that fundamentally, from 1997, let me down. I could have prevented potentially in my head all those other children from harm. There are hundreds of them."
When another victim accused Walker in 2018 he gave a voluntary statement to Surrey Police, in which he denied the allegations and said all his accusers were lying.
He later moved to Malta and lived there for a year before returning to the UK when he was arrested and charged.
Walker was convicted of 40 sex attacks on 14 children, a persistent life of crime that ran from 1966 to 2007. His offences included nine rapes and 22 indecent assaults. Two of his victims were young girls.
Detectives believe that publicity around Walker’s convictions will give other victims the courage to come forward.
Mr Scates said: "He just created a fear. Even up until the court case, I chose to do it by video link because I didn’t want to see him. Now I’m ready to face him, because I know I’m protected and I know he’s been found guilty of it."
But Mr Scates was not the only victim to tell police of Walker’s attacks years before he was finally charged.
The second victim described how Walker had begun fondling him from the age of six and later raped him, once on a football tour in the Channel Islands.
The prosecutor told Croydon Crown Court: "The young boy was scared and confused, and he remembers the defendant telling him at some stage that this is what people who love each other do; and also that if he told anyone the defendant would get into trouble and be sent to prison. (He) was also frightened of what his father would do if he found out.
"In 2001, he contacted Sussex Police and made two early statements, but it seems that the defendant couldn’t be located at that time and the investigation eventually ground to a halt."
Sussex Police told Sky News: "We have had a good look round including with Professional Standards, and can find no record of any contact or complaint from anyone in relation to offending by Stephen Walker."