April 2021

Former Bellshill and Mossend YMCA manager is jailed for sex offences

A former YMCA manager has been jailed for 18 months for sex offences involving vulnerable teenage girls he was supposed to be helping.

Stephen Henderson, 32, was told he had betrayed the trust placed in him with his “appalling” behaviour.

Henderson, of Main Street, Holytown, was manager of Bellshill and Mossend YMCA when he groomed the girls who had turned to the charity for support.

He was convicted of communicating indecently with two girls aged under 16 and meeting one of them with the intention of engaging in unlawful sexual activity.

A jury at Hamilton Sheriff Court heard the offences happened between August 2013 and December 2017.

One of the girls was 13 when Henderson first targeted her and the other was 15.

One of the girls said Henderson asked her ‘What would happen if I asked you to kiss me? What would you do if I asked to have sex with you?’

She claimed the comments were made after he gave her a lift home following evening activity at the YMCA.

Defence agent Ian Scott said he hoped there were enough positive factors in background reports to persuade the court that Henderson is “not a danger to the public”.

He suggested his client could be spared a prison sentence.

But Sheriff Colin Dunipace said only jail was appropriate.

He told Henderson: “You were employed by a charity designed to offer young people space in which they can feel secure and respected, and an environment where they can be supported.

“This organisation often deals with vulnerable young people who have experienced difficult times and are desperate for support, encouragement and guidance in addressing their issues. These girls gave clear accounts of their background difficulties and explained how they sought assistance from the YMCA.

“They were extremely vulnerable, but you abused their trust. Their evidence was harrowing. Your behaviour clearly had an impact on their lives and it is to their credit that they have taken steps to move on.

“There was a pattern of grooming when they should have been able to believe that you would look after their interests. That makes the crimes all the more appalling.”

Sheriff Dunipace said he was also concerned at the “possible reputational consequences” for the YMCA of Henderson’s conduct.

He acknowledged Henderson was a first offender and had assisted others during his career.

However, his conduct had been “calculating and protracted” and a prison sentence was necessary.

Henderson will be under supervision for 18 months on his release. He will be on the sex offenders’ register for 10 years.

The court heard that he attended the YMCA as a 14-year-old and went on to become a volunteer worker. He secured paid employment and rose to become manager.

Henderson said the organisation was an important influence on him in his teenage years. He told the court: “I had been through a tough time and could have taken a different path had it not been for the help of youth workers.”

Henderson said one-to-one contact with vulnerable teenagers was important as it allowed them to “open up” about their problems. Issues discussed included bullying, drugs and alcohol, sexual health and self-harming.

Henderson was suspended from his post in 2019 when allegations against him were made.

The YMCA carried out an investigation and police were alerted.

March 2021

Lanarkshire YMCA worker preyed on vulnerable teens

A Lanarkshire youth worker who preyed on two vulnerable teenage girls, sent a topless picture and asked them about their sex life while he worked for the YMCA is facing jail.

Stephen Henderson, 31, targeted the girls aged 14 and 15 while employed as a senior staff member at the charity’s Bellshill and Mossend branch which cares for troubled youngsters.

He repeatedly contacted them via Snapchat and told them explicit details about his sex life after meeting them when they attended the group.

A trial heard Henderson groomed the 15-year-old and sent her a topless photo while he would also reveal intimate details about his private life to her.

The woman, now 20, said he repeatedly asked her questions about her sex life. 

The second victim, also now 20, said when she was 14 he asked her ‘what would happen if I kissed you? What would happen if I asked you to have sex with me?’ while they were sitting in his car.

Henderson, of Holytown, Lanarkshire, denied any wrongdoing and went on trial at Hamilton Sheriff Court but sobbed as he was convicted by a jury. 

He was found guilty of a charge of indecently communicating with the 15-year-old girl and a further charge of meeting her intending to engage in sexual activity between September 2015 and March 2017.

Henderson was also convicted of communicating indecently with the second girl between August 2013 and December 2017.

The first victim, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, told the court: “He would come and pick me up from school and then we would go for a drive and then he would talk about stuff in his life.

“He used to tell me about sex with his wife and how she wouldn’t do it the way he liked and asked me how I would do it.

“I looked up to Stephen and would never have discussed anything like that with him and when he was talking about it, I did put my guard up a bit.”

The second victim said: “If I had been out and slept with someone and he knew about it, he would ask questions about what I had done, what had happened, what I’d been asked to do and it was dead awkward and uncomfortable. 

“I could have been 14 or 15 at the time he was asking this.

“We also spoke about a place near me where teenagers go to drink and he would ask if people also went there to have sex.

“I didn’t want anything with him, not a relationship or anything. I trusted him and went to him for support.”

Henderson, who was suspended by the YMCA after allegations came to light, gave evidence and branded both women liars.

He added: “These messages I sent were not sexual. They are only being interpreted as that way in this court but the wider context would show that.

“They are not telling the truth, I took the oath and I take that very seriously so I’m 100 percent telling the truth. 

“I wasn’t interested in them and was only acting in a caring and supportive manner to try and help these girls out.”

Depute fiscal Neil Thomson urged jurors to convict Henderson.

He said: “These girls were both vulnerable and were both receiving support from Stephen Henderson but while in his car they both attribute sexual remarks to him and there are clear similarities to what they both came here to tell you.

“You may just think that Mr Henderson has come up with a string of excuses to get himself out of a very difficult situation.”

Sheriff Colin Dunipace deferred sentence on first offender Henderson until next month for reports, continued his bail and placed him on the sex offenders register.

He added: “I take on board everything that was said during the trial, your previous good character and also the fact that you undertook a lot of good work with the YMCA.

“But you have now been found guilty of taking advantage of these young vulnerable females and you should be under no illusions that the court will take an extremely serious view on these matters.”