Southampton FC has apologised to victims of paedophile Bob Higgins – who include former Pompey youth players.
Higgins was found guilty last month of 45 charges of abuse against teenage boys. He will be sentenced next week.
The trial was told that Higgins used his untouchable ‘star-maker’ reputation to keep boys quiet about his infamous ‘soapy massages’ and other abuse. More than 100 people have reported that he abused them as teenagers.
Among his victims was Lee Smith from Portsmouth, who has bravely spoken out about his experiences in order to encourage more people to come forward. He gave evidence in the trial and was one of 24 people who did so.
Mr Smith, 46, told The News after Higgins was found guilty: ‘We still know that there’s people out there who weren’t brave enough to come forward – I hope they get a sense of justice and satisfaction from what we’ve done.
‘It’s not just 24 of us – it’s the mums and dads, the sons and daughters, they’ve all been through it. They’ve not been through the abuse but they’ve seen our worst times. It puts a strain on your relationship with people.
‘It has been really difficult, traumatic. I’ve had bad dreams – nightmares of Higgins sat on the end of my bed.’
READ MORE: Victim of football paedophile Bob Higgins reveals trauma of – and relief at – seeking justice
Now Southampton – with Peterborough one of the clubs where Higgins worked – has issued an apology, saying that the victims should have ‘ received protection from any form of harm’ when they were under the club’s care.
The statement said: ‘Southampton Football Club would like to offer an unreserved apology to all victims and survivors of abuse by our former employee, Bob Higgins.
‘We recognise that some of the boys under our care suffered exposure to abuse when they should have received protection from any form of harm. For this, the club is deeply sorry.
‘Since the club was notified of the allegations against Bob Higgins in 2016, we have worked closely with the police, the FA and the Sheldon review. We have provided our full assistance with all enquiries made to the club, including identifying possible witnesses.
‘During their investigation and the subsequent trials, the police provided very clear instructions to the club, telling us not to contact any victims or potential witnesses as this could have adversely impacted those trials. This included instructions to us not to make any public statement in relation to the ongoing criminal process. This means that we are unable to contact any victims and survivors until the sentences from the criminal trial have been delivered and the police have confirmed that they no longer have any objections.
‘We recognise this lack of contact may have caused some anger and further distrust among the victims and survivors, but this approach has been absolutely necessary to ensure a fair trial. Following the completion of the current criminal trials, the club is continuing to work with the police. We can confirm that we will start consulting with victims and survivors individually once the police have confirmed that it is acceptable for us to do so.’
The club said it would now launch its own investigation, adding: ‘This statement is the first part of the club’s ongoing commitment to collaborate with the victims and survivors of abuse effectively.
‘Where that is no longer possible we will make every effort to engage with their families should they wish to do so. It is important for the club to rebuild relationships with those who suffered abuse while under our care in the past. We realise that it will take a significant amount of time and consultation with the victims and survivors to start to rebuild these relationships. However, we hope that over time we will be able to provide the support, understanding and tangible action to help each of them.’