Today, a Thai boxing coach was sentenced to three years imprisonment for having sex in Thailand with an underage student.

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.

The wife of the man was absent at the time so he invited other students.

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. 

He gave half a tab of Ecstasy to the girl when she was 15. The girl would then continue to take drugs as part of grooming until her 20th birthday.

Now in her 40s, the victim had been keeping the abuse quiet for over two decades. Then, she learned about another Thai boxing coach, who preyed upon his students in 2018.

Sharpley (now 62) was sentenced today to 42-months in prison for two counts of indecent attack. Catherine Sharpley, his wife of 34-years, stands 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 Sharpley sex with the girl at 14 years old, but she cannot be identified, when he hosted a party in his Westhoughton home, Greater Manchester, for his 34th birthday.

Robert Smith, the prosecution, told court, “He was 20 years younger than her and she was a student at his boxing group. He held a birthday party at his home to mark the occasion.

His wife was gone at that time so he invited several students, including the little girl. She was allowed to come as long her older brother was also there.

The defendant spoke to the girl and brought him into the yard. There, he grabbed the girl by the hand and kissed the lips. 

“She didn’t object to the attention and felt honored. It made her feel more grown-up, even though she clearly was still a baby.

“There was another thing that happened after she had taken a boxing lesson. She went back to his home and found his wife, children and other family members there.

“He took her to see the house, then turned upstairs and showed her photos of his bride in school uniform. He also showed her a booklet with pictures of bondage gear. Although nothing was actually done at that moment, it was part and parcel 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

Sharpley was sentenced to 42 months in prison at Bolton Crown Court after admitting two counts of indecent assault. Catherine Sharpley (59), his 34-year-old wife, is supporting him

“Sometime later, she persuaded her parents. [let her]Babysit his children. After visiting the address, she discovered that his wife and their children had left.

“He was accompanied by several young men who were working in his roofing business. That night, he handed her cannabis. Later that evening, he took her upstairs and persuaded to buy it. [perform a sex act]. 

Later, he invited her along to Zone club when she was 15 years old. Although she had informed her parents that she was going to be staying with a friend, she ended up meeting the defendant.

“It seemed that he was trying to get her to lie to her parents about where she was headed. He gave half of a Ecstasy tablet to her and used drugs in grooming.

“They had later intercourse, and it occurred on other occasions. This was a male who was her Thai boxing instructor sexually exploiting an under-age girl.

“She failed to report things until she learned about the convictions for Thai boxing coaches, and then she realized that she was not the only one. In October 2018, he was taken into custody. He confessed to having taught the girl, but denied having ever had a sexual relationship.

Sharpley denied any wrongdoing and changed his plea during the trial. Sharpley was convicted of drug dealing in 1994.

M. Bunty Btra, defense counsel to the government, stated that Sharpley had suffered a partial paralysis from a brain haemorrhage which occurred in 2012 and was unable for work.

He stated that these offences were completely outlandish and there was no evidence that he was prone to sexual offenses. They met organically and he admits that he liked her. Her maturity was evident to him. It seemed that the relationship ended naturally.

He said that these offences were committed more than 20 years ago while he was still a teenager. Since then, there have been many watersheds and his life has moved forward. He’s still married to his wife and they are very supportive.

He now feels very foolish for his actions and has an authentic sense of regret. He is completely housebound and has a very low chance of offending.

Sharpley was told by Judge Martin Walsh, who sententencing her: “She was 14-15 years old and was kissed on the lips by you as part of a grooming program. Before any sexual acts could occur, she was invited to your home and given cannabis.

“She was ineffectively vulnerable because he was being groomed by her as a Thai boxing coach. It was both a lot of preparation and grooming, and it was an act of deceit at a time in which she was her teacher and much older than you.

Sharpley was also required to register as a Sex Offender for the rest of his life.