A tragic catalog of missed opportunities to prevent Bob Higgins from repeatedly abusing young footballers was revealed in a gruesome report that concludes that Southampton accepts a “complete institutional failure” to protect the boys in their care.
Higgins began working part-time in Southampton in the 1970s, but was allowed to continue coaching at various clubs until 2016. when the scale of the football sexual abuse scandal was revealed. In 2019, he was finally sentenced to 24 years in prison after being found guilty of 45 charges of indecent assault on 23 teenagers over a 25-year period.
A 126-page report following an investigation by Barnardo’s children’s charity reveals that a complaint was lodged against Higgins when he was looking for Southampton in 1979, and that he then resigned two weeks later, only to be reappointed. for 1980 club youth development officer.
The nature of the complaint, however, was not described in detail in the minutes of the board’s meetings, and a senior former club official said that although the complaint could not be recalled, “it would not be related to any abuse issues”.
Higgins began working with Southampton around the mid-1970s, and it was also revealed that in 1974, police records detailed an alleged conversation between a local principal and a club member. The teacher complained about Higgins’ “inappropriate behavior,” but a board member told him not to repeat these gossips, or legal action would be taken.
It was also revealed that Higgins was briefly fired in 1985, that the FA sent a letter in October 1987 advising all clubs not to have contact with Higgins, and that allegations of abuse were directly reported to the club in 1989. .Giggins resigned again that same year, but was left free to train and abuse boys elsewhere.
Police action followed only after a complaint from one of the parents, but the trial on six charges of indecent assault in 1992 collapsed on the instructions of a judge. The five boys who told police about the abuse they suffered were never called to give evidence and all records of the trial disappeared. In his report, Barnardo reported on constant questions among survivors, “whether the decisions and actions taken during the trial … were influenced by factors outside the legal process.”
Barnardo’s said they had not found any evidence to support that claim, but stated that “questions are still being asked as to why certain decisions were made and why, importantly, no documents of any agency are available, relating to the Higgins trial “.
In a statement attached to the report, Southampton acknowledged that their complete failure to protect the boys in their care “then further supported those boys who were brave enough to speak out about the abuse”.
They apologized for their mistakes and also tried to answer why they had not acted earlier. “Unfortunately, we have to conclude that this was because it was simply easier not to see signs of possible abuse, not to listen to the children who were abused, not to challenge Higgins and not to resist his shameful behavior,” the statement said. “Too many people in the club and other organizations knew or should have known what was going on. Not everyone was able to take action. It is unforgivable and completely unjustifiable that so many boys are abused while pursuing the dream of becoming a football player.
“These mistakes shockingly left Bob Higgins to work in football until his arrest in 2016. It is very clear that the club has completely failed to protect so many young people from abuse over a long period of time. There were simply so many missed opportunities to end the shameful, horrific abuse that was carried out. “
Dean Radford, who first complained about Higgins in 1989, said the report’s conclusions were “completely damning.” He said: “Behind there is no reason why we should not report these allegations about Higgins or at least investigate.”
Barnard’s investigation included interviews with more than 20 former actors and reported on how Higgins cared for parents and young boys to gain their trust to allow overnight stays at his house. During its conclusions, the report found that there was no “managerial oversight” of the boys who spent the night at Higgins Home, and the board was “negligible” because it did not address the issue.
He was said to be a “god-like figure” who exercised great control to the point of threatening young actors with release if they had a girlfriend. One former youth actor said Higgins “whipped me around the gym” after he found out he was dating a girl.
Barnard’s report was passed on to some surviving senior club staff, who stated that “any hint that any board member or managers would know about the rumors is simply not true”.
The report points out that “we could not confirm exactly who knew what and when,” but the judgments were made on the basis of a “balance of probabilities.” He concludes that “it’s hard to understand how high-ranking officials at the club haven’t heard of rumors about Higgins in the 15 years we’ve heard that so many other people have them”. He added that “it is our view that it was appropriate for the board to reduce and ignore important Higgins concerns and not take action when we should have done so”.
Barnardo’s says that “Higgins stole or destroyed childhood” and that “the collateral damage to their families, their employment and their physical and mental health and well-being is invaluable”.