Southampton FC admits 'failings' over paedophile coach Bob Higgins ahead of Sheldon Review
THE home club of paedophile football coach Bob Higgins has apologised for ‘considerable failings’ – but a Portsmouth victim has said he still needs answers.
Southampton Football Club published its letter nearly two years after Higgins was jailed for more than 24 years in June 2019.
His trial heard he used his ‘supreme position’ of power over boys’ football careers to abuse them.
Higgins was jailed for 46 charges of indecent assault on 24 victims between 1971 and 1996.
Now Southampton has published its letter, and said it would publish more details of its failing when a Barnardo’s report has been completed.
It comes as the independent Sheldon Review into sexual abuse in football is expected to be published today.
The letter said: ‘Upon completion of the independent review currently being undertaken by Barnardo’s, we will publish what we have learned of the failings at the club that allowed and facilitated abuse to take place at that time, and how that abuse could have been prevented.
‘It is very clear that, historically, there were some very considerable failings that allowed this abuse to start and continue for such a long period of time.’
Portsmouth man Lee Smith, now in his 40s, was trained by Higgins as a youngster at Southampton. He was 13 when he was abused by Higgins.
Today he told The News: ‘I’m sure everyone involved in the trial welcomes the latest statement of apology from Southampton FC.
‘They are in some way trying to reach out to survivors and trying to build bridges, but we still need answers.’
Mr Smith waived his right to anonymity to speak out. In 2019 he demanded an apology from Southampton.
The Southampton letter, published yesterday, added: ‘For a professional football club not to prevent this abuse or be able to provide support for anyone speaking up to report it, is inexcusable.
‘This, along with the impact on the lives of the survivors of the abuse, as well as the families around them, is something we are very sorry for.
‘We hope that the steps that we have taken to be entirely open with Hampshire police since they contacted us in 2016 to make us aware of the possibility of abuse occurring at the club help to show that the club is a very different place now compared to the past.
The club previously said it had ‘deep regret’. Its new letter said: ‘To all of the victims and survivors of the child abuse carried out by Bob Higgins at Southampton Football Club in the 1970s and 1980s, we are deeply sorry.’
Higgins was involved in football up until 2016 when the allegations emerged again.
Higgins left Southampton in 1989 when ex-manager Dave Merrington overheard boys talking about the abuse and raised the alarm with the club and police.
Two months later in April that year the Football League wrote to clubs saying it ‘opposed’ the Bob Higgins Football Academy. He was cleared of abuse in 1992 on the direction of a trial judge.