Schoolgirl ‘sexually abused’ by coach Bill Blake at Hampstead’s Cumberland Tennis Club

Henrietta Rothman when she was seven years old

Henrietta Rothman when she was seven years old - Credit: Archant

A woman has told how she was repeatedly sexually abused as a young child by the former head coach of a prestigious Hampstead tennis club.

Henrietta Rothman now

Henrietta Rothman now - Credit: Archant

St John’s Wood schoolgirl Henrietta Verdier, who is now 47, is the fourth person to have made disturbing child abuse allegations against the once widely-respected Bill Blake.

The mother-of-five has decided to waive her anonymity and speak out after years of silence about her ordeal at Blake’s hands when she was just seven years old

Mr Blake, who died 20 years ago, taught at the elite Cumberland Lawn Tennis Club, in Alvanley Gardens, during the 1960s and 1970s for around 50 years.

With no chance of a prosecution, victims are now calling for the club to issue an apology for Blake’s actions.

Cumberland Lawn Tennis Club

Cumberland Lawn Tennis Club - Credit: Archant

As revealed in the Ham&High last June, police first launched an investigation in 2012 into two individual’s claims, alleging Blake sexually molested them as children during the 1960s.

Mrs Verdier, whose maiden name was Rothman, and now lives in France, said: “For years I have lived with the trauma and effect of what he did thinking I was the only one. When I saw the article it had a devastating effect on me.

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“I want to tell anyone else who might have also been abused that they are not alone and can speak out.”

She told how she used to have tennis lessons at the Cumberland during the 1970s. “I was around six or seven years old. At that time, Bill Blake was in an administrative job and had his own office near the entrance. He would always be there looking out for me and would call me into the office. He would get me to sit on his knee and tell me I was his favourite.

“He then used to touch me inappropriately. Afterwards he would give me little presents from a box in the corner.

“I did not want to go in and would hide from him behind the pillars but he would see me.”

She told her parents she did not want to see Blake or go to tennis lessons anymore but says they didn’t understand the significance of her words. “I didn’t like what he was doing and I didn’t like him, but I didn’t realise at that age that it was wrong.”

The alleged abuse happened less often after she went away to boarding school at the age of seven and a half.

She said: “It is something that I blocked out afterwards but I felt that I was following destructive patterns in my life caused by the trauma and during the break up of my first marriage when I sought treatment for depression, it all came out. It was the first time I talked about it.”

Mrs Verdier then returned to the Cumberland in 2002 in search of answers, however she found out that Blake had died.

She said: “Staff there did not want to hear anything against him. He was still considered a very respected man. I believe there were prizes in his name and pictures of him in the clubhouse. They did not like me coming along. They didn’t want to hear it at all.”

“I felt very disappointed that I was dismissed. When I returned to France I took all the gifts he had given me and all traces of him and threw them into the river.

‘‘I wanted to get him out of my system.”

> “Then when I saw the stories in the paper, my heart was in my mouth. It came flooding back and I realised that it still had a great effect on me and that I was not the only one.”

> The allegations first surfaced late in 2012 when the Met Police received claims that “a male employee at a sports club in Camden [borough] had abused a child in the 1960s.”

Six weeks later the club itself reported receiving an allegation that a man had been abused as a child by the same suspect.

Following this, Blake was been virtually stripped from Cumberland’s history and a spokesman said the club had made strenuous efforts to “address the re-naming of any awards, charitable funds, coaching squads etc in any way associated with Bill Blake”.

The police investigation was shelved when it was discovered that Mr Blake had died 20 years ago.

Mrs Verdier is puzzled that all mentions of Blake have now disappeared from the internet. “I cannot find one picture. Somehow all traces of him have been removed from public view. But not from his victims’ memories.”

A Met spokesman confirmed police had received reports in 2012 of two victims being abused by a male employee of a Camden sports club

He said: “Officers from the Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command carried out a number of enquiries during which they established that the alleged suspect was dead. The victim was informed.”

Police say as the accused has died they are unable to take the investigation any further.

The Cumberland offered no response when we contacted them last week.