Former youth football and predatory sex offender sentenced
Former youth football coach Bob Higgins has been jailed for 24 years and three months at Winchester Crown Court for sexually abusing young players over 25 years.
The 66-year-old was found guilty of 44 counts of indecent assault following a retrial at Bournemouth Crown Court.
He was found guilty of another count last year.
Higgins touched and groped 24 victims, most of them trainees at Southampton FC and Peterborough United, between 1971 and 1996.
Bournemouth Crown Court heard his status as a “God-like” figure enabled his decades-long campaign of abuse.
Sentencing Higgins at Winchester Crown Court today, Judge Peter Crabtree said that he “carefully groomed” the boys by giving them gifts such as football shirts signed by professional players and trips to football matches.
The judge said: “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.”
Higgins, who also coached at New Forest club Bashley, was “cunning and manipulative” and used sexualised behaviour to “normalise” the abuse he carried out, the court heard.
Judge Crabtree added: “A number of the boys idolised you and were prepared, and did, anything to further their dreams of becoming a professional footballer.”
Football coach Bob Higgins guilty of 45 counts of indecent assault
A former football coach who helped launch the careers of a string of household names has been found guilty of sexually abusing schoolboy players.
Bob Higgins, who worked with hundreds of youth players, was found guilty of 45 charges of indecent assault against teenage boys at Bournemouth crown court.
The jury found him not guilty of five counts of indecent assault and were unable to reach a verdict on the final count.
He showed no emotion as the verdicts were read out and he was convicted of offences against 23 victims.
He was convicted at an earlier trial of an offence against one other victim.
The judge, Peter Crabtree, discharged the jury and thanked them for their service. Higgins will be sentenced at a later date at Winchester crown court.
He indecently assaulted them at training camps, at home when his wife and son were under the same roof, in his car, and during “soapy” massages after training.
Higgins, 66, denied the offences, claiming the allegations were false memories or lies. His mask slipped once when, while giving evidence, he conceded he may have become sexually aroused while massaging boys.
Complaints about Higgins were first made 30 years ago but, even though the police and football authorities knew of the serious concerns about him, he continued to work in the game until the Guardian exposed widespread football abuse in 2016.
It can now be revealed that:
• More than 100 former schoolboy players have said they were abused by Higgins. The most serious allegations involving boys as young as 11, and involving 24 youngsters, were put before the jury at Bournemouth crown court.
• Police believe there may be more victims who have not contacted them. They are still keen to hear from anyone else who was indecently assaulted by Higgins.
• Higgins kept letters, pictures and witness statements in his attic as “trophies” from boys he had abused.
• Detectives believe Higgins committed offences in Sweden during a youth football competition but he cannot be prosecuted there because of legal restrictions.
• Higgins had close links with another coach accused of sexual abuse against children, Kit Carson, who worked with Higgins at Peterborough. Carson died in a car crash on the morning his trial was due to begin in January.
• Famous names that came up in Higgins’s trial included the England internationals Alan Shearer and Dennis Wise. There is no suggestion they were victims.
A spokesperson said: “Following the conviction of Bob Higgins … it will now be possible for investigations into what the clubs and the FA did or did not know about Higgins to be concluded.”
The senior investigating officer, DCI Dave Brown, of Hampshire police, said: “Higgins was a great coach. The boys would do anything for him and he exploited that position. He identified vulnerabilities of the boys he coached and used his position to groom them so he could fulfil his own sexual needs. Boys worshipped Higgins as a father figure. He was clever and manipulative, a typical predatory paedophile.”
Asked why Higgins had been able to carry on working with children after complaints were made, he said: “You have to look at what the DBS [disclosure and barring service] and checking processes were at that time. There are very different safeguarding processes now. The fact he would be a risk would be identified and it would be highly unlikely he would find himself in a position where he could continue to offend against young people.”
He described the victims as incredibly brave. “I hope it gives others who may be victims the confidence to come forward. We will treat them with dignity and respect. I’m sure there are more that haven’t come forward,” he said.
Many of the victims described Higgins as god-like, their mentor and their father figure. Several spoke of their inability to make a complaint against him earlier because they feared it would be the end of their dreams of a career in football.
The court heard Higgins was acquitted at a trial in the early 1990s of a series of indecent assaults, including against the former professional Dean Radford who waived his right to anonymity to give evidence as a witness in the current proceedings.
The public gallery was charged with emotion as the chairman of the jury announced Higgins was guilty of six charges in relation to the former Southampton trainee Billy Seymour who died in a car crash earlier this year. His evidence against Higgins was presented to the jury through videos he had given to police.
In a joint statement issued through the police, the victims in the Bournemouth case said: “When Bob Higgins returned to court eight weeks ago, he gave a clear message to us all with his continued refusal to accept responsibility for what he did to us as children. However, that message made us all stronger and more determined.
“The verdicts from the jury after hearing all of the evidence mean that Mr Higgins’ arrogance and lies have finally caught up with him. At last, after all these years, we can finally get a sense of closure and try to move on from this nightmare.
“On behalf of everybody who’s taken part in the trials, we would like to thank everyone involved in the case for having faith and belief in us.
“We would particularly like to thank the prosecution and investigation team who must have spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours putting this jigsaw puzzle together.
“But, most of all, we must thank our loved ones, wives, girlfriends, sons, daughters, mums, dads, brothers, sisters and close friends who have supported us right through to the end. It must have been difficult for them also.”
Referring to Seymour, they concluded: “We did it Billy, love you our good friend and brother xxx”.
Southampton FC said it noted the verdicts “with deep regret”.