Dr Strange actress Zara Phythian is jailed for eight years after she and her Taekwondo 'master' husband plied girl, 13, with rum and sexually abused her 'once or twice a month'
- Actress Zara Phythian has been jailed for eight years at Nottingham Crown Court
- Her husband Victor Marke was also sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment
- Judge Watson said he believed the start of the sexual abuse was pre-planned
Doctor Strange actress Zara Phythian has been jailed for eight years at Nottingham Crown Court for the historical sexual abuse of a girl who was aged between 13 and 15.
Phythian's husband Victor Marke was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment for jointly abusing the same victim, as well as the indecent assault of a second girl.
Passing sentence, Judge Mark Watson told the couple that he believed the start of the sexual abuse of the joint victim had been pre-planned.
Phythian, who starred with Benedict Cumberbatch in the Marvel movie Doctor Strange, plied the teen with rum before making her perform a sex act on her partner.
The 36-year-old and Victor Marke would abuse the girl 'once or twice a month' at their home over a three year period from 2005.
Film actress Zara Phythian has been jailed for eight years at Nottingham Crown Court along with husband Victor Marke, who has been given 14 years
Phythian, who starred with Benedict Cumberbatch in the Marvel movie Doctor Strange, plied the teen with rum before making her perform a sex act on her partner
Phythian's husband Victor Marke was sentenced to 14 years' imprisonment for jointly abusing the same victim, as well as the indecent assault of a second girl
The judge told Marke: 'I regard you as the driving force behind the abuse. You were clearly aware of the first incident but pretended to be asleep.
'This could only have been a ruse agreed in advance.'
During the sentencing, the judge also said that Phythian's 'deviance' was shaped by the influence that Marke had on her from an early age.
A court heard the abuse began after Phythian gave the victim booze and asked if she wanted to 'play dare' with her husband.
Martial arts and Taekwondo 'master' Marke, 59, then had sex with the schoolgirl about 20 times on different occasions.
The actress, (pictured left at the 'Knights of the Damned' film premiere in August 2017, and right at an event in 2016), had denied all the charges
She had been hugely respected and admired within the martial arts world, a court heard
The victim, who cannot be named, described the couple as 'Jekyll and Hyde' characters and said Marke threatened her while ordering her to film the abuse.
The couple, of Mansfield, Notts., were found guilty of 14 counts of sexual activity, while Marke was convicted of four further charges of indecent assault against another teen.
After her sentence was passed, members of Phythian's family shouted 'we love you Zara' to which she responded: 'I'm innocent, I love you all.'
Earlier, Marke could be heard sobbing uncontrollably as he arrived into the court room to hear his fate.
Sentencing, Judge Mark Watson said: 'It has been said that both of you present as impressive individuals, each with a long list of accomplishment.
'You, Victor Marke, were somebody your students looked up to. You Zara Marke were also someone that was looked up to by those you taught.
'Most people have held you in high esteem. That is why you were able to groom the victims in this case and get away with it for so long.
'You groomed her and there was a significant disparity in your ages.
'Both of you exposed her to sex acts. You showed her how you liked it and she described it as a 'very advanced, dirty, naughty side'.
'She said 'God I've done everything and I'm not even 16 yet.'
'At the time she was already vulnerable, in the sense she was young and had not gone through puberty.
'Much of the sexual behaviour was video recorded.
'Victor Marke, I describe you as the driving force behind the abuse. The sex act that did take place would end when you had fulfilled your needs.
'You were also the older part and occupied a higher status in the world of martial arts.
Phythian (pictured with Benedict Cumberbatch) and her Taekwondo 'master' husband Victor Marke, 59, were jointly charged with 14 historical counts of sexual activity with the girl
Jurors heard the alleged abuse began after the couple plied the girl with Captain Morgan dark rum, before Zara (pictured) 'dared' her to perform a sex act on Victor
'Both you and Zara Marke were immersed in that regime, everyone was all too aware of the pecking order - you were at the top.
'Each of you shares responsibility. Your offending involved multiple types of sex acts and more importantly you offended together.
'I have to deal with you both for a course of offending that lasted three years. I do take account of your good character but this may be of limiting value.
'There will be no chance for either of you to see the other, which will cause some distress. '
Addressing Phythian, the judge said: 'The sentence in your case will be shorter.
'There was one victim and you were younger at the time and I do not view you as the driving force behind this.
'You were besotted with Victor Marke. I am in no doubt your deviance was shaped by him.
'You had been the focus of his attentions. Your relationship started at a time when you were young.
'None of this excuses what you did, you may have done them to fulfill Victor Marke's urges but you still chose to play your part. '
Jurors heard how the teen would regularly stay with the pair at their home when the abuse started.
Hollywood actress Zara Phythian, 36, (with spouse Victor Marke arriving at court on May 3)
She told police how she was given rum before being asked by Zara - also a martial arts expert - if she wanted to play 'dares'.
The actress then began performing a sex act on her husband before asking the victim to do the same.
The girl claimed he then 'took it in turns' to have sex with them both.
She told officers the abuse continued until she turned 18 and included Victor asking her to record him and Zara.
The girl said he also filmed the abuse, telling the court it was an attempt to re-create the pornography the couple watched.
The court heard extracts from Zara's police interview in which she described the claims as 'bulls***'
Giving evidence, the victim told the jury: 'I knew it was wrong, but I did not know how to get out of the situation, or say anything.
'I just did whatever they asked me to do. They made it seem like I was some naughty kid and they were helping me out.
'I just felt like there was no way out. They told me not to say anything.'
The court was told Victor used his position of trust to 'satisfy his sexual urges' alongside his wife.
She was described as a 'major personality' who was 'enjoying unprecedented personal and professional success' after her role in Marvel film Doctor Strange.
Ahmed Hossain QC, prosecuting, said: 'Both of those defendants commanded admiration and respect within the martial arts world.
'Victor Marke groomed these two separate complainants when they were children and that he used his position of trust and authority to make them feel special so that he could satisfy his sexual urges.'
The court was told Zara, who uses the stage name Phythian, branded the allegations 'bulls**t' when she was quizzed by police.
She said: 'They [the claims] are untrue. She has lied to me all the time I have known her.
'I am not a paedophile, or a rapist. Nor is Vic.'
Zara and her husband (pictured) were arrested in March 2017 on suspicion of sex crimes involving the girl. The trial heard graphic details of their sex life, which included filming themselves having sex, taking part in swinging sessions and using a wide variety of sex aids
She revealed in the police interviews her husband claimed he had 'consensual' sex with the girl only after she turned 18.
The actress said she felt 'confused' and 'would liked to have known about it'.
She also admitted she owned a sex toy 'collection' during questioning after the victim claimed the aids were used on her.
Nicole Hepburn, from the CPS, said after the case: 'This was an appalling case of exploiting a position of trust and respect to gain sexual gratification.
'Victor Marke ruthlessly took advantage of the age and vulnerability of these girls, as well as his status as an admired coach.
'He made them feel special and listened to and then abused them. Zara Marke similarly exploited her position to perpetrate child abuse.
'Both defendants have denied their actions, instead blaming the victims and accusing them of lying.
'Thanks to their evidence, given clearly and credibly in court, the Markes themselves have been exposed as the true liars.
'It does take courage to stand up to your abusers and give evidence in this way and I would like to express my respect and gratitude to the survivors for everything they have done to ensure the Markes are held responsible for their criminal actions.
'This abuse may have occurred some years ago, but that makes it no less serious and nor is it a barrier to justice.
'I would encourage anyone who has been abused in the past to come forward with the knowledge that the CPS will take your case seriously.'
Detective Inspector Parminder Dhillon, of Nottinghamshire Police, said after the case: 'Today's events mark the end of a very long and challenging legal process for the victims and their families.
'Although these sentences can't undo the very considerable harm done to the young women at the centre of this case, I do hope that they offer at least some degree of comfort.
'The Markes worked together to exploit and abuse a girl for their own sexual gratification.
'In doing so they committed some of the most serious offences that can be committed against children and have rightfully been handed very considerable jail sentences.
'I hope this case serves as a timely reminder to all victims of sexual abuse.
'If you come forward and tell us what happened to you, we will investigate and we will get to the truth.'
Ms Phythian as Zealot in Doctor Strange with Mads Mikkelsen (left). She is also the star of a number of martial arts action movies including Tribal: Get out Alive with another due out this year
How Dr Strange actress Zara Phythian was 'groomed' by married martial artist when she was just 14 and he was 37 and 'became his slave' before starting sexual affair
By Andrew Young and Vivek Chaudhary for MailOnline
Hollywood actress Zara Phythian - convicted of child sex offences - was 'groomed' by her married martial arts coach from the age of 14, accepted him as her 'master' and then later engaged in an affair with him, according to a former training partner.
The 36-year-old star, who featured in the 2016 Marvel superhero film Doctor Strange, alongside Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton, took Victor Marke as her ‘master’ in an ancient Shaolin ceremony at the age of 17,
After bowing before him and uttering some traditional verses, she allegedly swore allegiance to him, vowing to do everything he required of her, even if it went against her own values.
A martial arts enthusiast who once trained with the couple and only gave his first name as Bob, told MailOnline: ‘The ceremony is taken very seriously in the martial arts world.
‘Once you accept somebody as your master, you have to completely accept what they ask you to do or say.
‘It’s like being a slave because you are at the mercy of the master. You are not even supposed to think for yourself because the master is your God.’
Phythian was found guilty of sexually abusing a girl over three years, starting when she was 13.
She and her Taekwondo ‘master’ husband Marke, 59, were jointly charged with 14 historical counts of sexual activity with the girl.
Her husband was also charged with four counts of indecently assaulting another girl, aged 15 at the time, between 2002 and 2003.
Hollywood actress Zara Phythian, 36, (with spouse Victor Marke arriving at court on April 28)
The couple had denied all the charges, but a jury found them guilty following a trial at Nottingham Crown Court.
He added: ‘Victor groomed Zara as well as his other victims. He used his power and influence as a master of martial arts to dominate and control young girls.’
Martial arts enthusiast Paul, who once trained with the couple, told MailOnline: ‘Zara was very good at martial arts and was already a black belt by the time she started at Victor’s academy.
‘He took an instant shine to her and devoted a lot of time and energy on her development.
'It was obvious that she was his favourite pupil, and she worshipped the ground he walked on.’
He added: ‘It was very odd when we found out that he and Zara were having a relationship because of their age difference and the fact that he was such a senior martial arts figure.
'Juliet was devastated because she was left alone to bring up their baby.’
MailOnline can also reveal that Victor and Zara were friends with another prominent martial arts master Paul Drury, who was jailed for 15 years in 2015 for raping a girl shortly before her 13th birthday at his home and his academy.
Zara and Victor visited and performed at his Black Belt Academy in Dawlish, Devon around at around the time they were carrying out their own crimes against their teenage victims.
Drury also posted a gushing interview with Zara in 2008 which was titled: ‘Looks like a model. Hits like Bruce Lee. The Zara Story.’
Francis McGrath, defending Victor, suggested that his two victims may have ‘colluded’ with each other, saying that the first girl had ‘given’ the second girl's name to detectives.
He told jurors: ‘The two complainants in this case are not independent of each other. This is not a case where two people have gone to police independently and a link has been established.
‘You cannot eliminate the possibility there has been some form of collusion that has not been identified by the police.
'Mr Marke does not need to satisfy you that it has not occurred. It is a possibility that we cannot safely eliminate.’
But both the victims who are now women denied that they had conspired together in any way, and their claims were believed by the jury.
Why I believe my daughter the 'Hollywood sex abuser' was a young victim, too: Distraught father of British actress who starred in Doctor Strange speaks out after she was found guilty of molesting a schoolgirl with her husband
As a father of four daughters, Andy Phythian wanted to do everything possible to ensure his girls could look after themselves as they grew up.
And so from an early age, the sisters found themselves schooled in martial arts.
Zara, the eldest, quickly excelled, and had a karate black belt by the age of 14. Having learned everything her local club could teach, she joined an academy in Nottingham run by coach and Taekwondo master, Victor Marke.
Zara quickly became his star pupil, with Marke telling her parents the teenager was so good she should ditch her dreams of university to pursue martial arts full time.
Mr Phythian came to regard Marke as a friend. When Marke married, he was invited to the wedding along with his wife and Zara.
So imagine Mr Phythian’s shock when, barely five years later, his then 19-year-old daughter told him it was not just the sport she had fallen in love with — but her instructor too.
‘I had no suspicions at all,’ her father told the Daily Mail.
‘I could not believe what I was hearing and to say I was not a happy man would be an understatement. I felt betrayed by him and very angry.’
Such a reaction was hardly surprising given that Marke was 22 years older than Zara, his wife had recently had their baby — and he was supposed to be Zara’s teacher, not her lover.
For two years, Mr Phythian and his daughter did not talk until relations thawed to the extent that Marke felt able to ask Mr Phythian, a joiner, for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
The pair seemed happy enough and, as the years passed, appeared to have created a successful life together.
On Wednesday, Zara, 37, and her husband were found guilty of grooming and sexually assaulting a 13-year-old schoolgirl. Throughout the trial at Nottingham Crown Court, Zara’s family stood by her, watching from the public gallery as guilty verdicts were returned and the couple were remanded in custody ahead of sentencing today
Not only did Zara rise to become a Taekwondo world champion, but she managed to turn her passion for martial arts into a successful acting career.
Talent-spotted at a tournament in the United States, she began to work as a stuntwoman as well as taking part in Guinness World Record attempts on Sky TV.
But her big break came when she successfully auditioned for the role of ‘Brunette Zealot’ in the 2016 Marvel superhero film Doctor Strange, alongside Benedict Cumberbatch and Tilda Swinton.
At the time, she was described as enjoying ‘unprecedented personal and professional success’ — even telling of her ambition to star in a Bond film.
Throughout the trial at Nottingham Crown Court, Zara’s family stood by her, watching from the public gallery as guilty verdicts were returned and the couple were remanded in custody ahead of sentencing today.
Speaking exclusively to the Daily Mail last week, it is clear Zara’s father is struggling to come to terms with events.
He says the family expected her to be cleared, echoing claims made by others in the martial arts community who say Zara had herself been groomed by Marke.
‘Victor groomed Zara as well as his other victims,’ a former training partner of the couple said last week. ‘He used his power and influence as a master of martial arts to dominate and control young girls.’
Mr Phythian agrees: ‘We have all got along over the years, but now there are no words for how I feel about him. I have always thought he groomed Zara.
He got into her mind and messed her head up to control her. For her, martial arts meant everything. He used that to get a hold over her.’
He adds: ‘In my opinion he should have owned up to grooming Zara, pleaded guilty and let her walk. She is another of his teenage victims. I just feel awful about it.’
Of course, the truth is that any sympathy should be reserved entirely for the couple’s victims.
The abuse of which Zara was convicted was committed when she was an adult, starting in 2005 when she would have been about 20, and her partner 42.
In addition, the offences continued over a three-year period, having a devastating impact on the teenage victim and damaging her relationship with her mother.
Her father spoke about how the actress began a relationship her now-husband at the age of 14 when she joined his martial arts academy. Marke was 22 years older than Zara, his wife had recently had their baby — and he was supposed to be Zara’s teacher, not her lover
Because of the couple’s not guilty pleas, she was then forced to relive her ordeal in court.
The woman’s anguish was clear as she tearfully told the jury she regarded what had happened to her as her ‘darkest secret’, adding that she had always planned to ‘die with my shame’.
She had only decided to speak out after becoming a mother herself and being contacted by police who told her another girl was claiming to have been abused by Marke.
The victim described how, aged 13, the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ couple had seen ‘the vulnerability in me and preyed on that’.
‘I was ashamed,’ she added. ‘It was a power they had over me. I never knew how to get out of that situation. I could not see a way out.’
When she did finally pluck up the courage to say she never wanted to see them again, Zara was said to have told her: ‘Don’t come back, I’m burning your stuff.’
While Zara dismissed the claims as lies and ‘bulls***’, the victim was able to describe a Chinese calligraphy tattoo her abuser had in an intimate area, signifying Marke’s name.
She also referred to a range of sex toys owned by Zara, which Zara admitted to having.
Evidence was also heard in court about video footage of the couple ‘swinging’ while Marke admitted having sex with one of the girls when she was 18 — and he was married to Zara.
All of which has left Mr Phythian struggling to understand why his daughter stayed with Marke.
‘My other daughters would have kicked any man doing that into touch, but not Zara,’ he says. ‘He had properly got into her head.’
Does he regret introducing her to martial arts in the first place?
‘No, I can’t say that,’ he says, speaking from the family’s bungalow in Nottingham. ‘I know there are a lot of good people involved in it making improvements to peoples’ lives. Marke is the exception.
‘Having four girls, I wanted them to learn martial arts so they could defend themselves. I liked the respect and discipline that it involved.
The other girls became very good swimmers, but Zara loved martial arts and took to it like a duck to water. She liked the fighting element and wanted to compete.’
A friend recommended he try the School of Champions, an academy run by Marke and his then partner Juliet, also in Nottingham.
So it was that in 1999, 14-year-old Zara was introduced to her future husband.
‘Juliet basically ran the set-up,’ said Mr Phythian, ‘but Victor was the boss, an exceptional trainer. I watched him work and it was clearly a very good club, but he controlled everything.’
Marke, 59, was also convicted of indecently assaulting another girl, aged 15. Sordid details emerged about the couple’s love life, including how Marke would film Zara having sex with other men
Mr Phythian, a former amateur footballer, was so impressed he took up the sport himself.
‘I joined. I became very close with Vic, he was a good mate,’ he says. ‘We would go to all the competi- tions together. ’
Within a year of Zara joining the club, Marke opened a second nearby and asked Zara, then only 16, if she would run it.
Mr Phythian says: ‘It was a difficult one for her mum and me because Zara was exceptionally bright. She got A-grades in almost all her GCSEs and she was certainly university material.
‘It would have meant a lot to me if she had gone to university but she was taken over by Vic. He told me she had a career in martial arts right there for the taking and my wife and I thought that she should follow her dream as she could always go to university as a mature student.’
That same year — 2000 — Mr Phythian, his wife Sue and Zara attended Marke’s wedding to Juliet.
Also with them was Zara’s first boyfriend whom she had met on holiday in Spain.
‘She seemed really happy with him,’ said Mr Phythian. ‘He came from Manchester so they would sit on the phone, racking up the bill.
‘Then, out of nowhere, she dumped him and just said he was mean to her. I suspect now that Vic intervened and told her to concentrate on her martial arts.’
Zara was still living at home, when, aged 19, she told her father that she and Marke, then 41, had started a relationship. He did not take it well.
‘My wife said it looked like Zara and I were going to start fighting,’ he recalls.
‘I then found out that she had already organised a flat for them both to rent and he was leaving Juliet. They moved to another townhouse together a bit later but for the next two years Zara and I had no contact.’
He adds: ‘I missed her so much but had to accept she was besotted with him. There was nothing I could do or say to change that.’
Others in the martial arts world were also taken aback by the relationship. ‘He took an instant shine to her and devoted a lot of time and energy to her development,’ one told Mail Online last week.
‘It was obvious that she was his favourite pupil, and she worshipped the ground he walked on.
‘It was very odd when we found out he and Zara were having a relationship because of their age difference and the fact that he was such a senior martial arts figure. Juliet was devastated and was left to bring up their baby alone.’
In the end, it was left to Mr Phythian to repair the damaged relationship with his daughter, attending a local celebration after Zara returned triumphant from a competition in America.
‘I shook Vic’s hand but as far as I was concerned Zara was still a kid,’ he says.
When the couple subsequently turned up on his doorstep, it was for Marke to ask for permission to marry his daughter.
‘I gave them our blessing and I have never seen Zara so happy,’ said Mr Phythian. ‘But we all thought it was a bit strange.
‘I don’t wish to be rude but Vic is not the prettiest picture and Zara is a very pretty girl. My mates would say, "What is she doing with him?" But she was happy and her career was going very well.’
With Marke’s backing, Zara set up her own martial arts school in Mansfield in 2007 before finding success in the film world. She also ran a production company and set up a clothing brand.
Then, seemingly out of the blue, in 2017 the couple were arrested for sexual abuse.
Police had received a complaint that Marke had indecently assaulted the 15-year-old. That led detectives to knock on the second victim’s door.
Recalls Mr Phythian: ‘I got a call from Zara asking me to let her dogs out as she had been arrested. Later she said she had been accused of rape and sexual abuse. I just could not believe it.
‘The investigation took so long. She was still teaching all ages at the martial arts academy and was confident justice would be done and she would walk free.’
Instead, the pair were convicted of 14 counts of sexual activity with a child. Marke was convicted of a further four charges of indecently assaulting another girl, aged 15 at the time, between 2002 and 2003.
‘It was the worst day of my life,’ Mr Phythian says of the moment the verdicts were returned. ‘I would rather have a heart attack than listen to that.’
Does he still believe his daughter is innocent?
‘I believe 100 per cent that he messed her head up,’ he says. ‘Even through all this she has stood by him and we don’t understand it. She should have filed for divorce.’
In the dock, the pair hugged after hearing the verdict. They will be sentenced on Monday but the judge has told them to expect a ‘considerable period of custody’ —marking the end of their careers, in martial arts and film, if not the end of their toxic relationship.