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Bob Higgins trial: Former Southampton football coach jailed for 24 years for sexually abusing young players

Evening Standard logo Evening Standard 12/06/2019 Olivia Tobin
a man sitting at a desk © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

Paedophile ex-football coach Bob Higgins has been jailed for 24 years after being found guilty of sexually abusing young players over a 25-year period.

The former Southampton coach, who worked with hundreds of youth players, had previously been found guilty of 46 charges of indecent assault against 24 teenage boys.

He was today sentenced to 24 years and three months at Winchester Crown Court.

The horrific abuse had taken place over a 25-year period, a court was told.

Higgins, 66, was found to have abused his “position of power” over the future careers of the young players, in order to take advantage of them for his own personal needs.

a man sitting in a room: A court artist sketch of Bob Higgins watching a witness interview (PA) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited A court artist sketch of Bob Higgins watching a witness interview (PA) In sentencing, Judge Peter Crabtree said that Higgins "carefully groomed" the boys by giving them gifts such as football shirts signed by professional players and trips to football matches.

He continued: "You encouraged many of them to treat you as a father figure. For a number of boys who were brought up without a father and were vulnerable this had a profound effect."

The judge said that Higgins was "cunning and manipulative" and used sexualised behaviour to "normalise" the abuse he carried out.

As well as the prison sentence, Higgins was ordered to sign the sex offenders' register and was also banned from working with children and made subject to a supervision order on his release.

He added: "A number of the boys idolised you and were prepared, and did, anything to further their dreams of becoming a professional footballer."

The jury heard victim after victim speak of the abuse carried out by Higgins in similar situations - during post-exercise soapy massages, in his car while he played love songs on the stereo and at his home where he cuddled with the boys on his sofa.

Praising the victims for their "courage and fortitude", the judge told Higgins: "The only person who should feel shame and guilt is you", adding: "You show not one jot of remorse."

The defendant, who wore a hearing aid during proceedings, sat impassively and showed no emotion as the sentence was announced.

a man wearing a hat talking on a cell phone: Higgins, entering court (PA) © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited Higgins, entering court (PA)

The trial heard that Higgins abused his "position of power" over the future careers of the young players in order to take advantage of them for his own sexual needs.

He was convicted of groping them during post-exercise soapy massages as well as at his home and in his car.

Many of the victims described Higgins as God-like, their mentor and their father figure showing the influence he held over them.

Several spoke of their inability to make a complaint against him because they feared it would be the end of their burgeoning football career.

One victim said: "Bob Higgins said he loved me and would make me a star, I had a dream of being a footballer, you created a nightmare that I still live to this day.

"You sexually and mentally abused me - behind a mask of affection, you created a conveyor belt of abuse."

Higgins was described as "pure evil" by another victim, who added: "I swore you wouldn't break me."

One victim called Higgins a "monster" and said that the coach had turned in a "split second from a father figure to a bully, a child abuser" and added "my chance of being a professional with Southampton Football Club was over".

The words of former Millwall and Coventry City player Billy Seymour, who died in a crash involving a drink-driver earlier this year, were read by his mother Jean Seymour.

In his statement, Mr Seymour detailed how he spiralled into "self-destructive behaviour", resorting to drink and drugs, and ended up in court and stated he was diagnosed as bipolar with an emotional borderline personality disorder.

Mrs Seymour read: "Only now am I coming to terms with what you did to me as a young defenceless lad who admired you, hero-worshipped you and, I feel sick to my stomach to say, loved you."

The court heard that Higgins was cleared at a trial held in the early 1990s of a series of indecent assaults including against former-pro Dean Radford who gave evidence as a witness in the current trial.

This acquittal meant that Higgins was allowed to return to his work where he continued his abuse of young players.

The new case against Higgins was brought after the BBC Victoria Derbyshire show exposed claims of abuse in football in November 2016.

A NSPCC helpline subsequently set-up led to 87 referrals to Hampshire police all of them naming Higgins with another 32 people contacting the force directly.

Southampton FC has issued an apology to the victims and said it had launched an investigation with Barnardo's into the offences and added: "This review will allow us to fully understand and learn from what happened at the club in the past."

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