Cooking Changed Teen Abuse Victim's Life; A Promising Young Chef Has Agreed to Speak Openly about the Sexual Abuse He Suffered as a Schoolboy in the Hope of Giving Strength to Other Victims Suffering in Silence. Nathan Hale Tells Richard McComb How a Love of Cooking Transformed His Life

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Byline: Richard McComb

Nathan Hale, a promising young chef, locked away his darkest secret as he set about pursuing a career in the profession of his dreams.

His flair for cooking, nurtured despite a troubled childhood, had allowed him to keep a lid on his personal trauma.

No one, except his tormentor, a paedophile football coach, knew of the abuse he had suffered for two years from the age of 14.

But as Nathan, then 18, returned from a college catering placement in Albuferia, Portugal, his past returned to haunt him.

Met off the plane at Birmingham International Airport by three West Midlands Police officers, Nathan was driven to a city centre police station where detectives specialising in child protection asked him about a man called Paul Gardner.

Nathan said he knew Gardner from informal football kick-abouts in a park near his home in Oldbury. The 31-yearold goalkeeper had offered to coach him and some other lads.

But what an officer told Nathan next left him dumbfounded: Gardner was in prison on child sex charges. Nathan, who had always assumed he was the only boy targeted by the paedophile, learned he was one of eight boys identified by police as having been abused in Smethwick and West Bromwich.

Computer expert Gardner, who kept an electronic library of 17,500 child pornography pictures downloaded from a Russian website, used his mobile phone to film the boys. It was how detectives had traced Nathan.

Recalling the interview at Steelhouse Lane, Nathan said: "The police went on to show me images from one of the videos he had taken.

"They said, 'Can you confirm this is you?' It was so shocking, it made me cry. I was so emotional and I just broke down.

"The video was about 10 minutes long. I managed to push Gardner off and get out of the house.

"They police said, 'Did you consent to this?' And I said 'no.'" Nathan, now 20, is speaking to me in the kitchen of his grandparents' home in Oldbury.

The kitchen table has been draped in cloth and dressed with flowers.

Nathan, who's wearing black trousers off the hip with a belt proclaiming "Jesus Loves," has prepared a tasty light lunch of grilled mackerel and a lemon and whiskey posset. It is between discussions about cooking, about which he is passionate, that the spiky haired cook opens up about his experiences of being abused.

Disowned by his mother and left to sleep rough at the age of nine, Nathan tried to kill himself at school to escape Gardner's clutches. It's seems intrusive to listen in but Nathan's resolve does not waver during our two-hour meeting. It is he who has contacted me. He wants his story to be told.

Nathan has agreed to waive his legal right to anonymity in the hope that publicity about his harrowing experience will give strength and inspiration to other children and young people targeted by paedophiles.

In a direct message to abuse victims, he said: "I've been there and seen and felt the pain, gone through some very dark moments and emotions. You can't let it break you or they win.

"I chose to stand up and acknowledge what happened to me. It spurred me on in my career decisions and has helped me on the road I am today.

"Some people may judge you and I know it is hard to stand up and be counted. I know it is scary but be strong, take that first step. There is so much help and support out there to help you. …