‘Pure evil’ ex-football coach Bob Higgins, 66, jokes and smiles in the dock moments before being jailed for 24 years after grooming and abusing 24 young players over 25 years
- Bob Higgins was today jailed for more than 24 years for sexually abusing boys
- Football coach was found guilty of 45 counts of indecent assault on 24 victims
- The abuse was carried out on Southampton FC and Peterborough Utd trainees
- He had a ‘God-like’ status which enabled his decades long campaign of abuse
Bob Higgins, 66, abused 24 aspiring footballers, Bournemouth Crown Court heard
A paedophile former football coach was today smiling and joking just minutes before he was jailed for more than 24 years for sexually abusing 24 young trainees.
Bob Higgins was found guilty of 45 counts of indecent assault, carried out 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.
Yesterday victims 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.
Ex-football coach Bob Higgins (pictured left at a trial last year and right in his coaching days) was found guilty of 45 charges of indecent assault against teenage boys
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 gave them gifts such as boots, shirts from professionals or international players you had trained and took them to what would have then been First Division football matches.
‘It’s also clear you invited many, if not all of them, to treat you as a father figure. That had a profound effect.
‘In many cases, you played love songs and invited boys to touch you while in your car.
‘You invited many to stay at your home overnight or at weekends.
‘Little did their parents know their young sons were being invited to participate in stroking and cuddling by you.
The former football coach, pictured leaving court in a car and obscuring his face with a shopping bag, abused his ‘position of extreme power’ to molest youngsters
‘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.
Justice from beyond the grave: How victim who campaigned to put Bob Higgins behind bars died months before the verdict
Former footballer Billy Seymour, pictured, campaigned to bring Higgins to justice but died in a car crash months before the trial
Ex-professional footballer Billy Seymour campaigned to bring Bob Higgins to justice but died just months before seeing his abuser convicted for offences against him.
Mr Seymour, a Southampton youth player who went on to play for Coventry City and Millwall, was the only alleged victim in the trial to waive his right to anonymity.
The ambassador for the Offside Trust, which campaigns against child abuse in sport, told the first trial how he took to drugs and alcohol as a ‘coping mechanism’ for the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of Higgins.
But before the retrial could begin at Bournemouth Crown Court, Mr Seymour died when he was the passenger in a van driven by a drink-driver that crashed in Sonning Common, Oxfordshire, on January 3.
His evidence, recorded during the first trial, was then played to the jury at the retrial in his absence.
Adam Feest QC, prosecuting, told the jury Mr Seymour stood out as the person who was most affected by the defendant’s sexual abuse.
He said Mr Seymour decided to train with Southampton Football Club because of the ‘charisma of the defendant’ and he turned down approaches from Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal.
Mr Feest said the abuse began as the defendant would drive the 12-year-old Mr Seymour to training sessions in Harlow ‘with love songs playing on the stereo, in particular Whitney Houston’.
He said the defendant would grope Mr Seymour and also make him lay his head in his groin.
Mr Feest said the abuse continued when Mr Seymour would stay at the defendant’s home, as well as during a training trip to Sweden, and the sexual behaviour became ‘normalised in Billy’s mind’.
In his evidence, 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.’
Mr Feest said that later in life, Mr Seymour’s ‘life imploded’ and he was ‘misusing drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism, coping with what happened to him at the hands of this defendant’.
He added Mr Seymour was imprisoned in 2010 for holding a plasterer’s knife to a taxi driver’s throat ‘because the man’s eyes looked like Bob and he smelt like Bob and he’s inside me’.
‘You have shown not one jot of remorse in challenging each accusation and I am bearing that in mind.’
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.
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?’
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.
‘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.’
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.’
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.’
He added that Higgins was not a ‘superstar’ coach and his trainees had succeeded not ‘because of him but in spite of him’.
Southampton FC has issued an apology to the victims and said it has launched an investigation.
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