Image: From Hampshire Constabulary interview

An ex-youth football coach, convicted of carrying out a 20 year campaign of sexual abuse while working at two major English football clubs including Southampton, has been sentenced to 24 years and 3 months in prison.

Robert ‘Bob’ Higgins, 66, abused youngsters while he was coaching at Southampton Football Club and Peterborough United, between 1971 and 1996.

He was famous for spotting and nurturing a number of talented players who went on to achieve significant success in the game, both nationally and internationally.

Claire Booth of the Crown Prosecution Service, 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.”

The jury heard that Higgins used his notoriety and the power that came with his coaching role to gain trust, as well as exploiting the trust of the boys’ parents.

The CPS was able to present evidence of how some of the victims, now adults, have been affected. One victim died before the prosecution but his evidence was used in the trial.

Claire Booth said,

“We would like to thank all the victims who came forward and who had the courage to face Bob Higgins, as well as their families and all the witnesses.

“We now hope that with this sentence all of the victims in this case will be able to find some closure.”

He was convicted in May and was was branded a ‘predatory paedophile’ as he faced multiple counts of indecent assault relating to 24 boys, most of whom were youth football players at the time of the offences.

Detectives from Hampshire Constabulary’s Operation Marmion team, who specialise in investigating non-recent child sex abuse, first started making enquiries in November 2016.

Detective Chief Inspector Dave Brown, senior investigating officer, said after the conviction:

“Today’s guilty verdicts are testament to the bravery and patience of all those victims and witnesses involved.

Bob Higgins was a predatory paedophile. He thrived on controlling and manipulating his victims and knowing that he held the career prospects of many young men in his hands. He exploited that position in the most disgraceful way.

“Many of his victims haven’t felt able to speak about these horrendous experiences for most of their lives. After taking the extremely brave step of coming forward and reporting this abuse to police, they have then had to go through the stress and strain of a very public crown court trial, as Higgins maintained his innocence throughout.

“I would like to thank those men who came forward and who have worked with us over the past couple of years – often having to disclose some of the most personal information. We appreciate how difficult and distressing this has been for them and their families, friends and loved ones.”

In a joint statement after he was convicted, his victims said:

“When Bob Higgins returned to court…he gave a clear message to us all with his continued refusal to accept responsibility for what he did to us as children.  However, that message made us all stronger and more determined. The verdicts from the Jury after hearing all of the evidence mean that Mr Higgins’ arrogance and lies have finally caught up with him.  At last, after all these years, we can finally get a sense of closure and try to move on from this nightmare.

“On behalf of everybody who’s taken part in the trials, we would like to thank everyone involved in the case for having faith and belief in us.

“We would particularly like to thank the prosecution and investigation team who must have spent hundreds, if not thousands, of hours putting this jigsaw puzzle together.

“But, most of all, we must thank our loved ones, wives, girlfriends, sons, daughters, mums, dads, brothers, sisters and close friends who have supported us right through to the end. It must have been difficult for them also.”