A SWIMMING coach who taught three generations of Dorset children is devastated after a ‘black cloud’ has been left hanging over her 50-year career.

Janet Hewitt, 69, was found guilty of assault by beating last week after Weymouth Magistrates’ Court heard that she grabbed a child by the arm after a swimming gala.

But the grandmother, of Garfield Avenue, Dorchester, said she has been ‘overwhelmed’ by support from pupils and parents past and present.

She said: “This might have ruined my life. For 51 years this sport has been my life, and now, to be accused of something like this has just devastated me.”

Mrs Hewitt said she also fears what the ruling will mean for other coaches and people who volunteer with youngsters.

The head coach for the West Dorset Warriors has taught thousands of children and adults, including those who have represented Great Britain at the sport.

She said: “I don’t know how I can walk away from it. I don’t know how I can tell the 300 kids I teach every week that I’m not coming back.”

Mrs Hewitt stepped down from the role when the allegations were made in April.

The effect on her health and her family whilst waiting for the court case to be heard has been ‘devastating’, she added.

“I am on anti-depressants and sleeping tablets, as well as visiting a counsellor every week.

“I love children and I love the sport and I am just in sheer disbelief that this has happened.

“It has made my life hell.”

Support has poured in from as far away as Australia following the court case.

She said: “The swimming club, people at my church, teachers from schools I coached at, have all been just tremendous. I can’t thank them enough.”

Mrs Hewitt cites the highlight of her career as training Deaflympic silver medallist Lulu Cummings.

She said: “Swimming gave Lulu the language to speak and to watch her grow in confidence and reach her potential was just fantastic.”

But there have also been times when the skills she has passed on have been lifesaving.

Mrs Hewitt said: “A parent came to see me once with a bunch of flowers and said that while they were away on holiday one of her seven-year-old twins fell into the canal.

“The other immediately jumped in and they both scrambled to the bank, like I taught them to do.”

As a former gymnastics and volleyball coach, Mrs Hewitt said she believes what happened to her could put others off volunteering with children.

“If it is so easy to make a complaint, what effect is it going to have?

“There are some sports where you have to support the child physically, such as when you are teaching them how to do a forward roll.

“Or you could have to break up a fight.”

With her own future uncertain, Mrs Hewitt said she still hopes to be able to go back to coaching.

She said: “It has changed me. I will never go into a changing room again, or be responsible for picking up a child if they fall over.

“I have been a swimming coach for 51 years and I have thoroughly enjoyed every second. But this is like a big black cloud hanging over it.

“I just don’t want my career to end like this.”

No one from the ASA (Amateur Swimming Association) was available to comment on the impact of the verdict on Mrs Hewitt’s coaching future.

Messages of support for Mrs Hewitt have flooded in since her conviction.

A support group has been set up on Facebook that has already attracted more than 2,400 supporters.

President of the West Dorset Warriors Steve Rooks said youngsters from the club have also painted Mrs Hewitt’s name onto their arms to show their support.

He said: “Janet is a founding member of the club and has been head coach since 1989.

“The club has to look at where it stands now, and I’m sure it will go on, but without Janet it won’t be the same.”

And Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies even leant her weight to the flood of online support for Mrs Hewitt.

The silver medallist from the 1980 Moscow Games, who later turned to television presenting, posted a tweet with a link to the Facebook page supporting Mrs Hewitt.