Football coach Bob Higgins guilty of abusing trainees

UK News
Bob HigginsImage copyright Solent News & Photo Agency
Image caption Bob Higgins had denied molesting 24 boys

A former youth football coach who held “supreme power” over the futures of budding players has been found guilty of indecently assaulting boys.

Bob Higgins sexually 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.

A jury found him guilty of 45 counts of indecent assault.

He was cleared of five counts of the same offence, while jurors failed to reach a decision on a further count.

Higgins was found guilty of a further count of indecent assault after a trial last year.

During this year’s retrial, prosecutors told the court the defendant was “idolised” by trainees, who viewed him as a mentor and father figure.

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Media captionEx-footballer Dean Radford said trainees treated Bob Higgins like “god”

Victims said they were abused during post-exercise soapy massages, in Higgins’ car while he played love songs on the stereo and at his home where he cuddled with boys on his sofa

Adam Feest QC said Higgins had shown a “systematic and all-pervasive pattern of grooming behaviour” in gaining the trust of the boys and of their parents.

‘Keep quiet or risk losing everything’

Image copyright Other

During his time as a coach, Bob Higgins worked with young footballers who would go on to become national heroes and household names.

But others were not so fortunate.

Some were haunted by their ordeals, and gave up on football entirely.

Such was Higgins hold over those he abused, many felt unable to say anything, even to close family members, for up to 30 years.

Read more: The ‘star-maker’ who abused young footballers

The allegations arose after the NSPCC set up a dedicated helpline for people who had encountered childhood abuse within football.

It was launched after a number of former footballers, including Billy Seymour, spoke on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme in November 2016.

Image caption Victim Billy Seymour died in a car crash in January

Mr Seymour, a Southampton youth player who went on to play for Coventry City and Millwall, waived his right to anonymity to speak publicly.

He gave evidence at last year’s trial but was killed in a car crash in January before he could give evidence at the retrial.

‘Arrogance and lies’

Quiet sobbing from the packed public gallery became audible as guilty verdicts were returned on all six counts relating to Mr Seymour.

Higgins showed no emotion as the jury returned verdicts after more than 41 hours of deliberations.

In a joint statement issued through police, his victims said: “Higgins’s arrogance and lies have finally caught up with him.

“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.

“At last, after all these years, we can finally get a sense of closure and try to move on from this nightmare.”

‘It doesn’t disappear’

Image copyright PA
Image caption Greg Llewellyn waived his right to anonymity following the end of the trial

At Higgins’ earlier trial, the single guilty count related to former Southampton junior player Greg Llewellyn.

He was abused in the defendant’s car around the time of his 14th birthday on their way to a training session.

He said he had an “overwhelming sense of anger” afterwards and had punched Higgins during the practice.

Now aged 50, he said the ordeal had “caused me many difficulties in relationships, marriage, none of those positive.”

“It doesn’t disappear because there are always circumstances or scenarios that remind you of what happened,” he said.

Although responsibility for the abuse lies with Higgins, Mr Llewellyn said Southampton FC could have done more to protect the young players.

He said the coach’s “total carte blanche control” allowed him to do things “that simply wouldn’t happen today”.

“I can’t hold the club responsible but you have to point the finger and there was some negligence there but there was only one perpetrator,” he said.

Det Ch Insp Dave Brown, of Hampshire Police, said Higgins’ victims suffered “horrendous experiences” at the hands of a “predatory paedophile”

“He thrived on controlling and manipulating his victims and knowing that he held the career prospects of many young men in his hands.” he said

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Media captionPolice said Higgins kept vital documents from 1991 which were used against him in court

Police believe there could be more victims, who Det Ch Insp Brown urged to come forward.

Higgins is due to be sentenced at a later date.

Southampton FC has not yet commented.

His is the latest in a string of high-profile prosecutions of former football coaches.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-48295837

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