A ‘cunning and manipulative’ football coach who abused children between 1971 and 1996 has today (Wednesday 12 June) been jailed for more than 24 years.
Bob Higgins, 66, made his victims endure two trials before a jury convicted him in May this year of 45 indecent assaults relating to 23 boys, most of whom were youth players for Southampton Football Club and Peterborough United.
He was convicted of one further offence against a 24th boy at the earlier trial which took place in the summer of 2018.
The assaults took place whilst Higgins administered soapy water massages to the boys, as well as during training sessions, at the home address of Higgins, in his car, and at training camps across the country.
Jurors spent more than 41 hours poring over the evidence before delivering the 45 guilty verdicts – two and a half years after Hampshire Constabulary’s Operation Marmion team first launched its investigation in November 2016.
A packed courtroom at Winchester Crown Court was brought to tears as emotional victim impact statements were read out by many of the brave men who found the courage to report the horrific abuse.
One of the men, reading aloud from the witness box, detailed how Higgins viewed himself as a God-like figure. Tearing this image apart, he looked over to the dock and said: “You are not a God. You are pure evil, a false prophet, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. You took away my dream and replaced it with a living nightmare.
“You told me you would do anything for me Bob. You told me you would go to prison for me. Well you’re going to prison Bob – the only true words you ever spoke to me.”
The powerful statement of Billy Seymour – a victim who tragically died in a car crash earlier this year before his abuser faced justice – was read out in court by his mother.
The statement read: “Let me get this over with as I am sick to my stomach of giving you any more thoughts of substance or consideration. You deserve nothing.
“As you listen to this you will be sat there awaiting your fate. I too have sat there in the dock and have lost my liberty on several occasions due to my poor mental health and my violent, abusive behaviours.
“My offences are a drop in the ocean compared to those you have committed.
“Having spent periods of time in psychiatric hospitals, having tried taking my own life, my stinking thinking, blaming myself and others, 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 even say this – even loved you.
“I have been a broken man too long. You have debilitated me all my life, and I have felt no joy in life, and have self-sabotaged anything remotely good. I have always wanted to feel pain as I felt I deserved it.
“The impact physically and psychologically has caused chaos for my family, and only for their love is Billy Seymour still breathing. They watched their much-loved son and brother self-destruct in front of them. I hate you most for this.
“They did not deserve that. They are good people. You made me believe there were none.
“The mist is clearing and I can see some light at the end of the tunnel.
“Only recently have we been able to consolidate and make sense of it all, which is a blessing.
“Bob Higgins, I am in safe hands now. Real safe hands. Not those you offered to me.
“I am a fighter. This is closure. Goodbye Bob Higgins.”
His Honour Judge Peter Crabtree, who praised the victims for their ‘dignity and fortitude’, sentenced Higgins to 24 years and 3 months in prison.
Following the sentencing, Detective Chief Inspector Dave Brown said: “Bob Higgins used his position as a trusted and respected football coach to abuse young boys for decades.
“He exploited this privileged position where he was given largely unsupervised access to children, in the most horrendous way. The power and control he exerted over these boys is deeply disturbing and the affect his actions had on these boys- now men, cannot be underestimated.
“His actions have destroyed the lives of many of his victims – some of whom have only recently had the confidence to acknowledge this abuse and report it to police.
“Today’s sentence reflects how seriously we take this sort of offending and should offer hope to those people who have been victims of non-recent sexual abuse that any information they give will be taken extremely seriously and investigated thoroughly.
“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.
“I would also like to thank my officers and staff who have been tenacious and determined in the pursuit of justice. They have overcome all sorts of difficulties to ensure Bob Higgins was put before a court and the victims of his long-spanning abuse got the justice they truly deserved.”
Anyone who has been a victim of child abuse, or has any information about this type of abuse, is encouraged to contact police on 101.
Alternatively, contact Child Line on 0800 11 11, or if you are an adult who has been affected, you can call the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000.