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Ex-football coach Bob Higgins guilty of abusing young players

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Bob Higgins was convicted of 45 counts of indecent assault (Photo: Solent News and Picture Agency)
Bob Higgins was convicted of 45 counts of indecent assault (Photo: Solent News and Picture Agency)

FORMER football coach Bob Higgins was described as a "predatory paedophile" after he was found guilty of 45 charges of abusing promising young players.

Higgins (66), a former manager of Bashley Football Club, sexually touched and groped 24 boys, mostly trainees at Southampton FC and Peterborough United, between 1971 and 1996.

A jury at Bournemouth Crown Court found him guilty of 45 counts of indecent assault after several days of deliberations.

He was cleared of five counts of the same charge and the jury failed to reach a decision on a further count.

He had denied all the charges, none of which relate to his time working for Bashley FC in 2001.

Higgins had been convicted at a trial last year of a further count of indecent assault.

Prosecutor Adam Feest QC had told the court that while Higgins was a talented football coach, he hid a dark side as a “predatory paedophile” who used his status as a “kingmaker” to abuse aspiring players and coerce them into silence.

The complainants alleged they suffered the abuse while they stayed overnight at his Southampton home or as he drove them to games and practice sessions.

Some also claimed they were indecently assaulted during soapy massages by Higgins at some of the training camps he ran.

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

Higgins is due to be sentenced at a later date.

DCI Dave Brown, senior investigating officer, said after the hearing: “Today’s guilty verdicts are testament to the bravery and patience of all those victims and witnesses involved.

“Bob Higgins was 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 exploited that position in the most disgraceful way.

“Many of his victims haven’t felt able to speak about these horrendous experiences for most of their lives. After taking the extremely brave step of coming forward and reporting this abuse to police, they have then had to go through the stress and strain of a very public crown court trial, as Higgins maintained his innocence throughout.

“I would like to thank those men who came forward and who have worked with us over the past couple of years – often having to disclose some of the most personal information.

"We appreciate how difficult and distressing this has been for them and their families, friends and loved ones."

He added: "I would encourage anyone who has been a victim of abuse, no matter how long ago it happened, to come forward.

"We will treat you with the utmost dignity and respect and have a team of specialists within our Operation Marmion team available for you to talk to."

The victims of Higgins also released a statement describing their experiences at the hands of Higgins as a "nightmare".

They 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."

In a statement issued after the case, an NSPCC spokesperson said: “Higgins exploited his position to access and abuse young boys who idolised him – knowing he had the power to make or break their careers.

“His victims have shown incredible bravery in coming forward and this case shows that anyone who has suffered child sexual abuse will be listened to, regardless of how many years have passed.

“Fortunately, safeguarding in sport has come a long way since the offences committed by Higgins, but more needs to be done.

"We want the government to extend position-of-trust laws, which would make it illegal for adults in certain professions to have sex with 16 and 17-year-olds in their care, just like teachers and social workers.

“Our Close the Loophole campaign calls on government to extend these laws to sports coaches and other youth leaders, to prevent adults from grooming children in their care, then initiating sex as soon as they turn 16.”

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