Southampton FC’s historic sexual abuse failures revealed in damning report | Southampton
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A string of missed opportunities has allowed predatory pedophile Bob Higgins to sexually abuse dozens of schoolboy footballers while working as a coach in Southampton, a damning report from Barnardo’s children’s charity concluded.
Higgins, considered a star maker ‘like a god’ by young people who dreamed of a career in football, was able to operate ‘apparently undetected’ in Southampton from the mid-1970s to the late 1980s and continued to work elsewhere in the sport. until 2016.
The report concluded: “It was an inevitable fact that the adults of Southampton Football Club during the time when Higgins was working for them or on their behalf did not regard the welfare and welfare of the boys involved in the club as their main consideration.
“The impact and damage caused by Higgins’ abuse of the children in his care while employed by Southampton Football Club is untold. The damage to their physical and mental health as they grew older, their relationships, their families, and even their ability to be parents with confidence has been devastating.
“These are the individuals who we believe have paid the price for what appears to be the inertia of the board members who failed to ensure that the young boys in contact with Higgins were also well protected than they should have been.
“We don’t think there was any deliberation or malicious intent on the part of these people, we think they just didn’t see the well-being of the boys as their responsibility and once Higgins quit his job, he saw no reason to alert anyone to the allegations that had been made against him.
Higgins was jailed in 2019 for 24 years for sexually abusing 24 boys over a 25-year span from 1971, but the report says more than 100 people came forward to testify about Higgins’ abuse.
The authors of the report spoke to 26 men who were abused or knew Higgins. They spoke of the hold he had over them. “He was like a divine, untouchable figure,” said one of them. “The boys were vying for her attention.” A second said: “Bob Higgins was like a god sitting on a throne with boys draped around him. “It could ruin our careers with one click, and we would do anything at that age,” said another.
They told how he cared for them with gifts and pledges. “He promised me that he would be my father figure. He was giving me gifts, attention, ”one of them explained. “I loved him. I wanted his approval. I wrote letters; I put love at the end,” another testified.
The men described how Higgins might at first be hesitant in his movements to see how the boys reacted: “accidental” touching, sexual jokes, comments about their bodies and genitals. “He was patting you and saying thumbs up, but he was touching my testicles,” one said. Another added: “He was slapping you on the buttocks. You have the impression that this is not good. He would make you do stretching exercises and retouch you. None of the boys would talk about it.
Higgins also “groomed” the parents, encouraging them to attend training sessions where soapy water massages would openly take place, which the report said was “essentially a technique he used to enable him to do so. ‘abuse boys’.
The former players gave a glimpse of the torment they had suffered since. One said he turned to alcohol, another was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. A third recounted a recurring nightmare: “A figure is pinning me to bed and… I can’t escape.
The report said it found no evidence that Higgins was part of an organized pedophile ring, but pointed out that he knew of trainers such as serial abuser Barry Bennell and Kit Carson, the former trainer. of Peterborough United, Norwich City and Cambridge United, who died in a car. crash on the day his sex offense trial against 11 boys was scheduled to begin.
“In our opinion, it is highly likely that these people had some knowledge of each other’s inclinations,” the report said.
The report says Higgins started working for Southampton in 1975 – when concerns were raised about him. He resigned in 1979 after a complaint but was appointed full-time youth development manager with the club in 1980. By the 1980s there had been rumors about him and he was nicknamed “Dodgy Bob”, according to the report. In 1989, a staff member overheard boys in a minibus making allegations about Higgins’ sexual behavior.
This was raised with the board of directors. The report says it was “particularly important” that the commission took four months to note that it should be reported to the police – and then only verified that a report had been made. “This failure to report or act has been a dramatic disappointment for the boys in Higgins’ care,” the report said.
The report says that, like many other football clubs, Southampton was, in the 1970s and 1980s, run by a council of local businessmen, lawyers, sponsors and landowners. None of them are on the board yet.
Higgins left Southampton in 1989. Police spoke to a number of boys who told them they had been sexually assaulted by Higgins.
Higgins was first tried in the early 1990s to face indecent assault charges against six boys, but was acquitted by order of the presiding judge in January 1992. Five of the boys who told the police the abuses they suffered were never called to give evidence at trial. The report says Higgins was left free to continue his abuse.
The report also pointed out that the boys often stayed with Higgins and his wife, Shirley, at their Southampton home, where many were abused. He said: “There was no management supervision to ensure that the accommodation provided for boys needing to stay overnight was appropriate. Council members neglected not to address the issue of accommodation arrangements for boys when they were away from home.
Southampton has offered a deep apology. In a statement, the club said, “Bob Higgins held the dreams of so many young boys in his hands. He completely betrayed the trust of these boys and their families. We now know that Higgins had absolute power at Southampton Football Club and those in management positions did nothing to ensure that proper controls were in place to prevent abuse.
“No one in a position of power did anything to know properly what was going on, to take action to ensure that the abuses were stopped and properly reported once they were discovered or to offer their support to those who were targeted by Higgins.
“Those in power at the club should have known what was going on much earlier. We saw evidence that even when senior officials discovered the abuse allegations at the time, they appeared to be doing nothing to act and still failed to report the abuse properly. These failures, shockingly, left Bob Higgins free to work in football until his arrest in 2016. ”
The club continued: “It is very clear that the club has absolutely failed to protect so many young people from abuse over a long period of time. It is clear that many people involved in managerial positions at the club should have done a lot more to support the children who had been abused and prevent Higgins from continuing to offend, whether in Southampton or elsewhere. There were simply so many missed opportunities to end the shameful and horrific abuse being perpetrated. “
The club said others were to blame as well. “A whole slew of people in clubs, the Football Association, the English Football League and the police have had the chance to properly investigate or report the alleged behavior of Higgins. Instead, they chose not to take action and not believe those who spoke, which means Higgins was ultimately not brought to justice until 2019. ”
Hampshire Police have defended their conduct, pointing out that Higgins was indicted in the 1990s and saying that an allegation of historic abuse brought to them in 2013 had been fully investigated, but that ” on the basis of all the evidence available at the time, no charges could be upheld “. to be lead to “.
The FA said Clive Sheldon QC will review the report to decide whether an addendum is needed to his 2018 report on sexual abuse in football. The EFL has been approached for comment.
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