Former Southampton youth coach jailed for 24 years for sexual abuse

Bob Higgins was last month convicted of dozens of indecent assault counts on 24 teenage boys between 1971 and 1996.

A general view of Southampton's St. Mary's Stadium. (Representative Image)   -  Getty Images

A former youth football coach at English Premier League side Southampton was jailed for 24 years on Wednesday for sexually abusing young players during a 25-year period.

Bob Higgins, 66, who ran youth training programmes at Southampton as well as lower-level club Peterborough, was last month convicted of dozens of indecent assault counts on 24 teenage boys between 1971 and 1996.

The trial heard Higgins was a “kingmaker” who abused his position of power over the future careers of the young players to take advantage of them for his own sexual needs.

Handing down the lengthy sentence at Winchester Crown Court in southern England, judge Peter Crabtree said he was “predatory, cunning and manipulative”. He added Higgins used sexualised behaviour to “normalise” the abuse he carried out.

“A number of the boys idolised you and were prepared, and did, anything to further their dreams of becoming a professional footballer,” Crabtree said.

“The only person who should feel shame and guilt is you”, he told the defendant, who sat impassively, listening through a hearing aid, and showed no emotion during the sentencing.

“You show not one jot of remorse,” the judge added.

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A police investigation into Higgins was launched following referrals from a phone line set up in response to revelations in 2016 of historic sexual abuse of young footballers at clubs across Britain. He was convicted in May of groping them during post-exercise soapy massages as well as at his home and in his car.

Several victims spoke of their inability to make a complaint against him because they feared it would be the end of their burgeoning football careers. Higgins was found guilty of indecent assault on Greg Llewellyn during his time as a junior player at Southampton in a separate trial last year.

One of Southampton's greatest-ever players, the former England forward Matthew Le Tissier, said in 2016 he had been subject to a “really disgusting” naked massage from Higgins.

Southampton Football Club has issued an apology to the victims and said it has launched an investigation.

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