Like everybody within the martial arts world, we’re shocked and appalled by today’s conviction of Victor Marke & Zara Phythian. The details emerging in national media are sickening by any measurement, but for a martial arts instructor to be the culprit is beyond reprehensible.
For the sake of clarity, BMABA has never had any contact with either Victor Marke or Zara Phythian, nor have we ever represented, licenced or associated their clubs or students. The news of this high profile case and their ultimate guilty verdict has shocked us as much as it has the wider community.
The details emerging from this case are still hard to define and we will need to await the Judge’s summary to understand what role their martial arts instructorship played in the grooming and abuse of the brave victims who brought this case to bear. When we know more specific details and any recommendations, we will of course analyse and break this down further for clubs and instructors. Unfortunately details of which organisation or governing body represented the couple (presuming they were not operating ‘underground’) are not presently available as all public references are being removed from websites and social media, but a closer look at the organisation’s safeguarding processes may also help to identify weak points.
What has BMABA been already doing to ensure their clubs safeguard effectively?
We’ve never sat on our hands when it comes to Safeguarding. We’ve been registered with the Martial Arts Safeguarding Code on an organisation level since day one of it’s launch, and we continue to work closely with them to ensure as many clubs as possible obtain this independent, Sport England recognised certification. Furthermore, we’ve offered safeguarding qualifications, DBS checking services and a huge range of professional safeguarding support – for both the general public and for clubs – for a number of years. This is complemented further by our live time national instructor records database which allows members of the public to validate DBS checks, safeguarding, insurance, membership and more in realtime on any instructor associated to us. Our credentials and track-record of helping clubs achieve greater Safeguarding standards, as well as the copious cases we’ve worked with and escalated to LADOs and Police over the years which have absolutely no relevance to our group or clubs speaks to the emphasis we place on the subject. We even have a dedicated in-house officer, based in our West Sussex offices.
Is BMABA going to take any further steps to improve standards?
Safeguarding is a subject matter that never sleeps and nor does our commitment to being at the front of the pack in respect of both our organisational safeguarding duties and the support we provide to clubs on the matter. Prior to this case breaking last week, BMABA have recently signed a contract with a Governmental organisation which ensures our newly released Club Colours Qualification and Club Licence stand up to the highest levels of vetting anywhere in UK Martial Arts. To stress, this has been the result of over three years work by our development team and is not a knee-jerk reaction to this week’s trial, but the timing couldn’t be more apt. As we do in any public case, we will take the time to understand how Victor Marke & Zara Phythian were able to exploit any current guidelines and we will also undertake a standard-process check of all current instructor records for on-going compliance.
Our Club Colours Award and Club Licence proactively vets every single person associated with a club – from the lead instructor and teaching staff to volunteers and administrators. It maps out the club’s organisational tree and ensures every person with access to children has a verified recent DBS check, safeguarding qualification, first aid qualification, insurance, grades or coaching qualifications, identity verification, address verification and more along with our level 1 and/or 2 coaching qualifications. This then allows the public to search a national public register of clubs for compliance, with our systems and team monitoring in real-time for on-going compliance. When a club is licenced through us in this way, if any qualification or check becomes out of date by so much as a day, the licence can be automatically suspended.
Could they have been stopped?
It’s impossible to say without the full facts. As we don’t have this to hand right now, we will await the expert verdict on this and any lessons available will be implemented. Unfortunately it’s not always possible to stop appalling people from gaining access to children or adults at risk. An enhanced DBS check will only check for past convictions, and a safeguarding qualification – whilst excellent for helping somebody understand their obligations, duty and support mechanisms for making safeguarding happen at club level – will not stop a predator. That said (as we’ve been saying for years) better communication among the association and governing body networks could have potentially helped identify high risk behaviour, and a universal code of conduct may have helped victims understand that the actions of their Sensei’s fell far below the bar expected of them. We will provide a full analysis when the case concludes and further facts are made available.
What can martial arts do now to try and prevent this from happening again?
Sadly we will never be able to entirely prevent predators from exploiting a genuine martial arts background to gain access to children, but we can put in place as many obstacles as possible to try and deter them taking up teaching, and to ensure their behaviour is flagged as early as possible if it causes any concern to students or parents.
Our immediate suggestion is that every club in the UK working with children or adults at risk should become registered with the Martial Arts Safeguarding Code. This would allow a neutral, non-partisan organisation to oversee the collective expectations of instructors working with young people without sucking in the politics of styles, affiliation and lineage. We will continue to work closely with our instructors to support them through the registration process via our industry-leading Club Colours Award and we will continue to support The Code in reaching as many clubs and parents as possible.
What should I do if I want to make sure my club is up to speed?
There’s never a bad time to review your safeguarding standards, but in terms of the best possible times, this must be as close to that as can be. We would thoroughly recommend clubs now double check their credentials, vetting and policies to ensure they are ‘on side’. If you’re a member of BMABA, we will automatically email you when your safeguarding or DBS are up for renewal, but you should still double check other team members for compliance. As an organisation, we’re happy to provide completely free and impartial support to clubs concerned by this news who want to do better to bring their Safeguarding Standards up to scratch.
If you have ever been the victim of abuse in a martial arts setting.
Your time is now, and you can speak up. This case shows that even an up-and-coming movie star is not out of reach. If you have suffered any form of current or historical abuse, you should raise this with the Police. Our expert safeguarding team are on hand to assist with any public concerns regarding their children’s clubs or instructors too.