August 2010

Pervert was hired as the chief executive of a disability charity

A CONVICTED child abuser from Sheffield was hired as the chief executive of a disability charity in the south of England despite trustees being made aware of his criminal past, an investigation has found.

Blind keyboard player Michael Higgins, aged 46, from Portland Court, Langsett, Sheffield, was jailed for two years in 1993 for indecently assaulting a boy.

Fifteen years later, in January 2009, he was employed as chief executive of the Hampshire Coalition of Disabled People, HCoDP.

He kept the post for nearly a year before he quit last November – keeping secret the fact he had been charged with another historic sexual offence against a child.

Two months later, in January this year, he went on trial at the Old Bailey in London, accused of molesting a boy, then seven, who said he had attacked him in London in 1987.

Higgins was cleared in February after being given an alibi by DJ Liz Kershaw, who told the court she could remember sharing a taxi with Higgins around 1990.

But following an anonymous tip-off the charity regulator launched an inquiry, after Hampshire and Southampton councils complained trustees at HCoDP had knowingly employed a convicted sex offender and refused to carry out criminal record checks – because they thought it was an invasion of privacy.

The Charity Commission ordered Higgins’ suspension while it conducted its investigation into his appointment. Two trustees quit, saying they had lost trust in charity officials.

The remaining trustees demanded Higgins’ suspension was lifted during the inquiry and continued to assert he was the right person for the job, claiming the councils’ reaction was “grossly disproportionate”.

Now, in a damning report, the Charity Commission has found HCoDP trustees knew Higgins was a convicted sex offender yet did not think he was “unsuitable” for the post. The Commission concluded HCoDP had been mismanaged and there had been a “serious lack of effective governance”. It ruled trustees had failed to fully discharge their duties and responsibilities as there were no “effective safeguarding policies and procedures”.

However, the Commission said trustees were now properly equipped to fulfil their duties.

It has given the charity until next month to appoint two new trustees to reinforce governance and draw up appropriate safeguarding policies and procedures.