Former Southampton youth coach Bob Higgins is jailed for 24 years

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A paedophile former football coach was today smiling and joking moments before he was jailed for more than 24 years for sexually abusing 24 schoolboys.

Bob Higgins was found guilty of 45 counts of indecent assault, carried out mainly on trainees at Southampton FC and Peterborough United, between 1971 and 1996.

Bournemouth Crown Court heard his status as a ‘God-like’ figure enabled his campaign of abuse that took place over 25 years.

Waiting for his sentencing hearing to start today at Winchester Crown Court, Hants, Higgins sat smiling and joking with a dock security officer, covering his mouth.

It came as police said they are looking at further possible prosecutions after more victims came forward during the trial. 

Yesterday those that were sexually assaulted lined up to describe a ‘conveyor belt of abuse’ at the hands of ‘pure evil’ Higgins.

They fought back tears as they spoke of having suffered shame, guilt and depression for decades as well as suicidal thoughts and having difficulties forming relationships, and each received applause from the public gallery. 

The 66-year-old was found guilty last year of one count of indecent assault, and a further 45 at a retrial.   

Higgins was convicted of groping his victims during post-exercise soapy massages as well as at his home and in his car.

Former international stars Matt Le Tissier, Dennis Wise, Alan Shearer and Danny Wallace were among those trained by the coach during his time at Southampton.

There was no accusation any suffered abuse at the hands of the coach.

Today, Judge Peter Crabtree told Higgins that he knew he ‘held the key’ to the children’s professional footballing dreams and asserted his ‘power and control’ to fulfil his sexual desires. 

Judge Crabtree added the ‘vicious’ mentality of the terraces at football grounds through the 70s and 80s meant his victims were, for years after, too terrified of revealing what had been done to them. 

Higgins sat straight faced, wearing a court-provided hearing aid to help him hear the judge, as he was jailed. 

There were muted cries of ‘yes’ as the judge jailed Higgins for 24 years and three months. 

Judge Crabtree said: ‘There is no doubt that as a scout and a football coach, working for Southampton and Peterborough United, you were good at spotting and developing talent in young footballers. 

‘This was such that many went on to have success as professional and international footballers. 

‘However, there was another side to you. This was the systematic abuse of aspiring young teenagers, most of whom were carefully groomed.  

‘You asserted the power and control you had to ensure they would not be able to tell people what had happened, or if they did they would not be believed.’

He added: ‘Your victims have shown great dignity throughout. The only person who should feel shame and guilt in this case is you.’

Higgins nodded to the judge as he was taken away by the dock security officer. 

Many of the victims described Higgins as God-like, a mentor and a father figure, showing the influence he held over them.

Several said they could not make a complaint against him because they feared it would be the end of their football career.

The impact statements of the 24 victims were read to a sentencing hearing at Winchester Crown Court yesterday. 

The words of former Millwall and Coventry City player Billy Seymour, who died in a crash involving a drink-driver earlier this year, were read by his mother Jean Seymour.

It detailed how he spiralled into ‘self-destructive behaviour’, resorting to drink and drugs and ending up in court, and said he was diagnosed as bipolar with a borderline personality disorder. 

One victim called Higgins a ‘monster’ and said the coach turned in a ‘split second from a father figure to a bully, a child abuser’, and added: ‘My chance of being a professional with Southampton Football Club was over.’

He continued: ‘I want you to suffer just as I have.’

Another victim said: ‘Bob Higgins treated me like a son, from being a slacker I was elevated to pride of my school and family because he gave me the confidence.

‘Bob Higgins gave me a glimpse of what my life could be, and it all came tumbling down during a soapy naked massage.  

Another victim said: ‘You sexually and mentally abused me – behind a mask of affection you created a conveyor belt of abuse.’

Higgins was described as ‘pure evil’ by another victim who added: ‘I swore you wouldn’t break me.’

Greg Llewellyn, 50, who has waived his right to anonymity, said Higgins had left him an ’emotional cripple’, and added: ‘You gave me an inferiority complex, feeling different to normal people.’ 

Southampton FC has issued an apology to the victims and said it has launched an investigation. 

Peterborough United also offered an ‘unreserved’ apology to all victims and survivors of abuse by former employee Bob Higgins.  

It said in a statement: ‘As a football club, we recognise and understand that some of the players under our care were subjected to unacceptable abuse and for this, the club is very sorry.’   

After the case, Claire Booth, Senior Crown Prosecutor for CPS Wessex Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Unit, today said: ‘Many young boys dream of becoming a footballer and training for a prestigious team. 

‘Bob Higgins preyed on and abused young boys – some of who adored him – and in doing so tainted and shattered the dreams of many. 

‘Being scouted by such a talented renowned coach was not something you would have turned down. 

‘Sadly it meant some had to grow up with this terrible secret, which for some was all-consuming. 

‘We would like to thank all the victims who came forward and who had the courage to face Higgins.

‘He was a predatory paedophile who applied a systematic and pervasive pattern of behaviour on each victim. 

‘Many calls were made to the NSPCC helpline following ex-footballer Andy Woodward’s revelation of childhood abuse on television. 

‘They were all investigated and gave a clear picture of the nature and extent of Higgins’ offending. 

‘This could not be a coincidence and as most of the victims did not know each other or had not spoken for years since their footballing days, there could be no suggestion of collusion.’ 

Victims have described a ‘conveyor belt of abuse’ suffered at the hands of ‘pure evil’ coach Bob Higgins. 

The trials heard that Higgins abused his position of power over young players to take advantage of them for his own sexual purposes during his time running youth training programmes at Southampton and Peterborough United.

He was convicted of groping them during post-exercise soapy massages as well as at his home and in his car.

Many of the victims described Higgins as God-like, a mentor and a father figure, and several said they could not make a complaint against him because they feared it would be the end of their burgeoning football career.

During the sentencing hearing, victim after victim fought back tears as they spoke of the shame, guilt and depression the abuse brought, and each received a round of applause from the public gallery. 

 

Victim Billy Seymour died in a crash involving a drink driver earlier this year, before he could see justice carried out.

An impact statement was read to the court from his mother Jean, which told how he  spiralled into ‘self-destructive behaviour’, resorting to drink and drugs and ending up in court, and said he was diagnosed as bipolar with a borderline personality disorder.

Mrs Seymour read: ‘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 say, loved you.’

Her son concluded: ‘I am in safe hands now, real safe hands, not those you offered me. I am a fighter, this is closure. Goodbye Bob Higgins.’

In her own statement, Mrs Seymour said: ‘How could I allow my lovely boy to fall into the clutches of this rampant paedophile? How could I let him down so badly?’

In his evidence, recorded during the first trial, Mr Seymour told the court: ‘I wouldn’t say I fell in love with him but I had a lot of love for him at the time, I thought the world of him.’

Describing one occasion, Mr Seymour said: ‘I felt like my head was going to explode, like I was going to puke, vomit.

‘My head was pounding, I was sweating, I just had to run out of the house, I was frightened, scared, I was panic-stricken, it was blind panic, I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know where to run.’

Dean Radford came forward to accuse Higgins of abuse in 1989 when he was just 18-year-old .

But Higgins was acquitted. Mr Radford gave evidence as a witness during the nine-week trial after being prevented from being a complainant due to double-jeopardy rules.

Fighting back tears outside court today, he said: ‘Eleven weeks ago, Bob Higgins turned up to court in disguise.

‘Today he can no longer hide behind the mask. The scarf is now gone and his appearance can finally be unveiled. He had no remorse, his arrogance showed when walking in to court with a bag that said ‘I’m back’.

‘His arrogance was his downfall. 

‘There were so many warning signs but nobody would listen. That ignorance let this monster continue abusing children for a long time.

‘Today his arrogance, lies and refusal to admit crimes caught up with him.

‘It’s not just about us who have suffered, it’s the wives girlfriends sons and daughters who have suffered with us.

‘You can call us brave and courageous, but we are not. We are just the unlucky ones who fell into the entrapment of his manipulative, deceitful and sexual behaviour.’        

In an interview with the BBC he spoke to Higgins directly and said: ‘I can have a certain amount of pride in what I’ve done in encouraging others to come forward to talk about the abuse that you inflicted on them.

Whereas maybe they wouldn’t have got hat chance. So that’s one positive that I can take out of this.’ 

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

Mr Llewellyn, 50, said Higgins had left him an ’emotional cripple’, and added: ‘You gave me an inferiority complex, feeling different to normal people.’

He added that Higgins was not a ‘superstar’ coach and his trainees had succeeded not ‘because of him but in spite of him.’ 

He was abused in the defendant’s car around the time of his 14th birthday when he was a junior player at Southampton.

Speaking after Higgins was convicted, he told how the impact has never gone away and he is often reminded of the abuse through various means. 

Mr Llewellyn said: ‘There are a number of common traits that people suffer from, a lot of anger, a lot of guilt, shame. 

‘I know a lot of the older guys have a great sense of guilt that they were not able to stop the abuse that happened to them before it happened or after it happened to go to police and stop it from happening to other people they knew and had a career in football with.’

He added: ‘I am convinced there are many more people who have suffered at the hands of Higgins and I hope that they find the strength to come forward.’

Mr Llewellyn, who has gone on to forge a successful career in business, added: ‘It doesn’t disappear because there are always circumstances or scenarios that remind you of what happened and that won’t ever change but I have managed to develop coping mechanisms.’ 

Dionn Riatt, was at court today to see Higgins jailed for his crimes. 

He said: ‘Football was our lives, football was our dreams, football was all that mattered, we would have done anything to make it as a professional footballer.

‘Bob Higgins used our desire and determination as a tool to exploit our vulnerability for his own sexual gratification.

‘Being believed is so important to us after so many setbacks and rejections in pursuing this evil man.

‘We are saddened by the hurt that was inflicted on not only so many boys but also our families and friends.

‘The verdict and sentencing do not wipe the slate clean and it is not a magic wand that can remove the pain and suffering that will be with us forever.’

Mr Raitt also questioned how the Football Association and Southampton and Peterborough United Football Clubs failed to stop Higgins.

He said: ‘Sadly, because of potential failings at Peterborough United and the FA, we were subjected to horrific abuse at the hands of Higgins.

‘We may have legal justice and Bob Higgins is now finally in prison as a convicted paedophile but we are the ones that have to live with the impact of his crimes every single day.’   

Jamie Webb tore up his contract with Southampton FC because of the abuse he suffered at the hands of Higgins.

He told the BBC: ‘It’s made me, quite often, too intense. Angry, confused.

‘Us players affected and our families and our partners can seek comfort from this and move on.

Speaking of the abuse he suffered: ‘I knew it was wrong, and I knew that I had to stop him. But its like I just sort of blocked it out and it didn’t make me feel like he had done anything really bad.

‘But I was a kid, I was young, I didn’t really understand what was happening.’

He said that after he quit Southampton, he told people he ‘wasn’t mentally focused.’

He said:  ‘I’ll never know what may have been.

‘A lot of people say I was good and everything. Its hard looking back on that period.

‘I think for a lot of my adult life I have been angry and unhappy inside and not really understood why, I felt like I’ve underachieved or let myself down and I have taken some comfort that I’ve realised that’s not as much my fault as I thought it was at some point.

He crossed boundaries and lines that were just completely wrong, evil.

‘These things never go away from you, so I’m proud that I and my fellow players have had the strength to come forward and tell the truth.’ 

 

One called Higgins a ‘monster’ and said the coach turned in a ‘split second from a father figure to a bully, a child abuser’, and added: ‘My chance of being a professional with Southampton Football Club was over.’

He continued: ‘I want you to suffer just as I have.’

Another victim said: ‘Bob Higgins treated me like a son, from being a slacker I was elevated to pride of my school and family because he gave me the confidence.

‘Bob Higgins gave me a glimpse of what my life could be, and it all came tumbling down during a soapy naked massage.

‘Could I really have made it? I suppose I will never know, my chance was stolen.’

He added to a round of applause from the public gallery: ‘Where were Southampton (FC)? Where were the FA? Where was there due diligence and safeguarding procedures? They all had a duty of care, they both had a responsibility.

‘Bob Higgins is indeed guilty but it was also the people in the system who failed us as well.’

And another victim said: ‘Bob Higgins said he loved me and would make me a star. I had a dream of being a footballer, you created a nightmare that I still live to this day.

‘You sexually and mentally abused me – behind a mask of affection you created a conveyor belt of abuse.’

Higgins was described as ‘pure evil’ by another victim who added: ‘I swore you wouldn’t break me.’ 

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