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Former Celtic youth coach who sexually assaulted boys while running Highland soccer academy is jailed

By Gregor White

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Sheriff Eilidh MacDonald passed sentence at Inverness Sheriff Court.
Sheriff Eilidh MacDonald passed sentence at Inverness Sheriff Court.

A former football coach insisted nothing 'sinister' had gone on when he shared a bed with boys under his care.

But Mark McAuley, of Pitdinnie Place, Dunfermline, was described by Sheriff Eilidh Macdonald as 'not naive but deliberate and calculated'.

Jailing him for 18 months today and ordering him to be placed on the Sex Offenders' Register for 10 years, she told him: "You professed to be a father figure and a friend to these boys but you were their abuser.

"You displayed typical grooming behaviour by targeting the most vulnerable and it was sexually motivated. The effect of your behaviour has been damaging for them.

"There was a significant breach of trust and you have displayed a lack of remorse or recognition for what you have done.

"It was a course of conduct pursued by you over a period of time when these boys were entrusted in your care by their parents."

McAuley forced back tears as he was led away and his parents and fiancée who were in the public gallery and continue to support him, believing in his innocence, also sobbed.

Defence solicitor Kelly Duling had appealed for 'mercy' from Sheriff Macdonald as she asked the court to impose unpaid work and supervision as a punishment.

But she conceded it was difficult for him to show remorse given that he still denies the offences of which he was convicted.

"He is deeply remorseful," she said. "Consider the impact of a custodial sentence on his family. They pray your ladyship will exercise mercy."

Ms Duling told the court that her client had co-founded a mental health charity to help prevent suicide in young men and has volunteered to be a kidney donor to his father.

"A community payback order will afford him the opportunity to make amends to the community," she said.

McAuley was convicted by a jury of five charges against him – three of sexual assault and two of sending or directing sexual communications at children.

The trial heard that an allegation against him had already been made which was not pursued.

But when another schoolboy in his charge confessed the abuse to one of his pals, the mother reported it to police and an investigation began.

The jury took two hours and 15 minutes to return majority guilty verdicts of 33-year-old McAuley being involved in sexual activity with two boys and having a sexual conversation with two others committed between 2016 and 2019.

They took place in properties in Tain, Dunfermline, Edinburgh and a car on the A9.

At the time, McAuley ran the Do Soccer group in Tain. He also had coaching associations with Dunfermline Athletic, Alloa as well as Celtic.

One boy told how McAuley would take off some of his clothes, grab his penis after pushing up his shorts and massage his thighs while they shared his bed in his home at Hilton Cottages, near Tain.

Another boy said McAuley also massaged his thighs while in the same bed.

Two more of his players said McAuley asked them about their sex lives and spoke graphically about sex acts.

The case bore similarities to another youth coach who had Celtic connections: Jim Torbett had three years added to his current sentence for sexually abusing one of his players over a period of years.

Like Torbett, McAuley would target boys with vulnerabilities. Two of them were in broken homes.

He took them on trips and for meals and molested them outwith the presence of other adults. He also shared a bed with his victims.

Fiscal depute Susan Love told the jury: "He was in a position of trust and he abused that trust to sexually assault two of his students – his favourites – having installed himself in two families who were going through a hard time."

View our fact sheet on court reporting here

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