A former football coach for a number of professional clubs is on trial, accused of being “a serial abuser of young teenage boys’.
Bob Higgins, 65, is being prosecuted for 50 counts of indecent assault at Salisbury Crown Court – allegations that were first brought to light through an NSPCC helpline dedicated to sexual abuse in football.
The charges against Higgins date from 1971 to 1996 and include numerous incidents of groping and other abuse against 24 boys, many of whom where trainees at Southampton and Peterborough United football clubs where Higgins worked as a football coach. Higgins denies the charges.
Adam Feest QC, prosecuting, told the jury: "The young footballers came to idolise the defendant. He held supreme power over their footballing futures, a fact which he made abundantly clear to them."
Feest described Higgins as a “talented coach, spotting and nurturing many young players who went on to achieve significant success, nationally and internationally” as well as a “predatory paedophile” who acted with “near impunity” having gained the trust of the boys and their parents.
The abuse the boys suffered included fondling when staying overnight at Higgins house to more serious sexual assaults carried out during massages, the court was told.
Feest said: "The young teenagers would join in with sexualised behaviour, their infatuation making them blind to the real nature of it.” The court also heard that Higgins had a “perverse affectionate attached” to some of the boys, including telling them that he loved them.
"The boys realised that they needed to impress their coach and, particularly those with slightly less footballing talent, to keep in his good books both on and off the training pitches."
Feest added that a number of boys were released from their contracts when they fell out of favour with Higgins, with one boy being told he would not have been released if he had been “more affectionate.”
Specific allegations against Higgins heard by the court include a boy who was forced to perform a sex act on the defendant in a bedroom. The victim said he did not report the alleged abuse at the time “perhaps through fear”, having been threatened by Higgins.
Many of the trainees who have made allegations against Higgins felt they would not be believed, Feest told the court. This was due to the defendant’s position as a professional coach and the "prevailing atmosphere at the time about this type of offending".
Other allegations against Higgins include a boy being forced to accept “cuddling and kissing goodnight” from the defendant “in order to progress his football” and several alleged victims being subjected to “naked soapy massages” at training centres.
The NSPCC helpline that helped bring the allegations against Higgins to light was originally set up following allegations made by former professional footballer Andy Woodward and others about abuse they experienced as boys from football coaches including Barry Bennell. Bennell was subsequently found guilty of 43 charges of historical child sexual abuse and a number of other former coaches are now facing prosecution for historic child abuse.
Speaking about the helpline’s role in the case, Feest said: "The telephone started to ring and one name was mentioned over and over again - that of Bob Higgins."
Higgins trial continues at Salisbury Crown Court. Higgins has denied 50 counts of indecent assault on a male person.
With the conviction of Barry Bennell and a growing number of former coaches, facing prosecution, it is to be hoped that more people who suffered abuse as children will feel empowered to come forward. If you were a victim of child abuse at the hands of a football coach, or under any other circumstances, IBB Claims’expert child abuse lawyers can offer the support and guidance you need to pursue justice.
We have extensive experience in pursuing a wide range of child abuse cases, including both recent and historic abuse, and can offer a sensitive and empathetic but practical approach to ensure you receive the best possible representation.