Former Peterborough United youth coach guilty of abusing teenage boys

Former Peterborough United youth coach Bob Higgins has been found guilty of 45 counts of abusing teenage boys.

Thursday, 23rd May 2019, 4:34 pm
Bob Higgins during his Peterborough United days

Bob Higgins, who ran youth team coaching for Southampton FC and Peterborough United, was accused of using his position to abuse trainees, several of whom went on to become professional players.

The 66-year-old was facing a retrial at Bournemouth Crown Court accused of 51 counts of indecent assault against 24 complainants between 1971 and 1996.

The jury found Higgins not guilty of five counts of indecent assault and were unable to reach a verdict on the final count.

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Bob Higgins arrives at a previous court hearing

The defendant showed no emotion as the verdicts were read out and he was convicted of offences against 23 victims. He was previously convicted at an earlier trial of an offence against one other victim.

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 denied all the counts against him.

Claire Booth, of the specialist rape and sexual offences (Raso) unit of the Wessex Crown Prosecution Service, said Higgins gained the trust of the young players and their families to enable his offending.

She said: “Mr Higgins was regarded by many as a star-maker, he was a very successful football coach and he was very popular.

“He, we say, would target vulnerable victims or those he perceived to be vulnerable, he gained their trust, he gained the trust of their family members, he was very much liked by the victims and their families, they trusted him with their careers and they really felt that he held their future in his hands.

“He was able to use that power to manipulate these victims into behaving in certain ways to satisfy his own needs.”

Ms Booth explained that although Higgins used typical grooming behaviour he was not charged with this as an offence because the legislation did not exist at the time of the offences.

She said: “As we have heard from a number of victims and witnesses in this case, Mr Higgins’ behaviour would today probably be considered as grooming behaviour, he was a predatory paedophile who manipulated a number of boys.

“We had a large number of victims who were able to give us background information about Mr Higgins and his behaviour.”

“These offences are non-recent and the grooming offences only came into force in 2004 so Mr Higgins could only be charged under the legislation that was in force at the time he committed the offences.”

Ms Booth said the abuse carried out by Higgins had a long-term impact on the victims.

She added: “It’s been a huge step for some of these victims, some victims have been able to talk to family members over the years and they have had that support but some victims felt unable to talk to anybody and the first time they spoke of Mr Higgins’ abuse was to the police during this investigation.”

Adam Feest QC, prosecuting, told the jury at the start of the trial the allegations against Higgins were made after ex-pro player Andy Woodward, of Crewe Alexandra, appeared on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme and spoke of the abuse he had suffered at the hands of another coach.

He said this led to the NSPCC charity setting up a helpline and added: “The telephone started to ring and one name was mentioned over and over again - that is the name of Bob Higgins, this defendant.”

Mr Feest explained that Higgins was a “talented coach” who was “idolised” by the young players and described as a “kingmaker” because of the extent of his reputation and influence.

He said one complainant viewed Higgins as a “father figure” and described him as “like a God”.

Mr Feest added: “The young footballers idolised him, the defendant.

“He held, in their eyes, supreme power over their footballing futures, a fact which he made abundantly clear to them.

“The boys realised that they needed to impress their coach and particularly those, perhaps, with slightly less footballing talent.”

He said they felt they had to “keep in his good books both on and off the training pitches.

“This defendant manipulated those feelings and desires, making sure that in order not to feel left out, the young teenagers would join in with what was sexualised behaviour, their infatuation, their naivety, their age, making them blind to the real nature of what was going on.”

Mr Feest added: “Once their trust had been gained and their devotion to him made absolute, this predatory paedophile with a sexual interest in young teenage boys was able to act with near impunity.”

Mr Feest said that the abuse was alleged to have taken place during training as well as during massage sessions, and also in the defendant’s car and home while some of the boys stayed overnight.

He said that some of the victims had felt unable to speak out about the alleged offences for many years.

More to follow