Senior Southampton FC figures 'did nothing' to prevent paedophile football coach Bob Higgins using 'unfettered power' to abuse boys

PAEDOPHILE youth coach Bob Higgins was free to prey on young boys as Southampton Football Club failed to act on rumours and concerns, a report has found.

Thursday, 25th November 2021, 10:00 am
Updated Friday, 26th November 2021, 10:37 am

Depraved Higgins – who was jailed in 2019 for 24 years – worked as youth development officer at Saints where he used his ‘kingmaker’ status to abuse boyhood players ‘with impunity’.

Rumours about his paedophilic actions were circulating in the 1980s but a new report by children’s charity Barnardo’s – commissioned by Saints – found the club failed to act on these and prevent his abuse.

The club ‘took no action, leaving boys vulnerable and Higgins free to continue abusing them,’ the report published today said.

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Bob Higgins at a court appearance. Picture: Solent News & Photo Agency

This is despite the rumours, a player leaving unexpectedly and the chairman of the Football Association writing with concerns to the club in October 1987.

Even when the Saints board was told of sexual abuse perpetrated by Higgins in 1989, the board took four months to realise this should have been reported to police.

The report added: ‘It is our view that the board of directors failed to take responsibility and minimised and disregarded significant concerns about Higgins and did not take action when they should have done.

‘The club persistently failed in exercising a duty of care to boys and this left them and other boys vulnerable to ongoing abuse by Higgins which impacted upon their lives as children and the adults they became.’

Southampton youth coach Bob Higgins with Lee Smith in 1984.

Portsmouth survivor: club interested more in ‘making millions’

Former Portsmouth Youth Cup starlet Lee Smith, who was preyed upon by Higgins at Saints, said the report proves his abuse was ‘swept under the carpet as we first thought’.

He said it shows a ‘complete institutional failure’. Mr Smith, now 50, said: ‘We were let down by so many senior individuals and I hope they can live with there conscience.

‘How can these people not know that any boys stayed at Higgins house over such a long period of time? It just goes to prove he was left to his own devices and do as he pleased.

Lee Smith was one of the men abused by youth football coach Bob Higgins. Picture: Habibur Rahman

‘It seems to me that the senior figures at the club let Higgins do this and roam freely to abuse who he wanted just because he was producing the goods by bringing through star players.

‘The senior figures back then were more interested in making millions in player sales rather than protecting us boys from a sexual predator.

‘It was also disappointing to read that certain individuals refused or never replied to the enquiry but instead hid behind their solicitors for protection. Again I hope there conscience is clear.’

Mr Smith said the report was ‘honest and fair’ but he was ‘disappointed’ the senior figures referred to were not named.

‘These individuals don’t know the agony and pain we have gone through and still go through every day,’ he said.

‘But does this enquiry give me closure? No it doesn’t, because not one individual has been held accountable for their negligence.’

Club admits officials ‘did nothing’

In response to the report, Saints said: ‘We now know that Higgins had unfettered power at Southampton Football Club and that those in senior positions did nothing to make sure that there were suitable controls in place to prevent abuse from occurring.

‘We doubt that anybody at the club at that time wanted the abuse to occur.

‘However, equally, no one in a position of power did anything to properly find out what was going on, to take action to make sure that the abuse was stopped and properly reported once it had been discovered or to offer support those who were targeted by Higgins.

‘Those holding power at the club should have known what was going on at a much earlier stage.

‘We have seen evidence that even when senior figures did find out about the allegations of abuse at the time, they seemed to do nothing to act and still failed to properly report the abuse.

‘These failings, shockingly, left Bob Higgins free to work in football until his arrest in 2016.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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