Southampton FC 'should have taken steps' to monitor paedophile coach Bob Higgins, report finds
FOOTBALL bosses at Southampton should have monitored paedophile coach Bob Higgins with concerns raised in the early 1970s, a report has found.
Disgraced youth coach Higgins was jailed in 2019 for more than 24 years for abusing 24 victims between 1976 and 1991.
An FA-commissioned independent review into a string of paedophile coaches has today said abuse could have been prevented if Higgins was monitored properly.
Among Higgins’ victims was Portsmouth builder Lee Smith, who was preyed upon from the age of 12 while training at Southampton Football Club. He is awaiting a further report from Barnardo’s into Southampton FC.
He told The News: ‘I welcome the findings in his report which suggest the club were aware of previous allegations/warnings of Higgins’ conduct, even before (former Southampton player) Dean Radford’s statement back in 1989, and never reported it.
‘The report suggests that directors/management/many who contributed towards the enquiry never knew that Higgins had schoolboys stay at his home.
‘In court Higgins claimed he had hundreds if not thousands of kids stay at the homes he shared with his wife Shirley.
‘My question to Southampton FC is: how was Higgins able to afford to feed and care for all these school kids in his care?
‘I’m sure he wasn’t doing it out of the kindness of his heart. Was the club paying him expenses to look after them?
‘How was Higgins allowed to coach school boys when he never even had a coaching licence up until 1985? Even that licence was inadequate to coach kids.
‘I’m hoping that the enquiry being conducted by Barnardo’s may shed some light on this.’
Today’s report by Clive Sheldon QC found ‘at least some club staff’ knew youngsters were staying at Higgins’ home.
A headteacher had raised concerns with the club after kicking Higgins off the school premises in 1969.
The headteacher spoke to clubs in Surrey and was ‘warned’ about Higgins, the report said. Of the headteacher, the report added: ‘I got the impression that (Higgins) was not to be trusted with young boys.’
In 1974 the teacher contacted Southampton manager Ted Bates, who died in 2003, and he was ‘enraged and threatened to take legal action if I persisted with what he called malicious gossip’.
Higgins later called the teacher and ‘pleaded’ with him ‘not to hound’ him.
The report said a complaint was made to the club in 1979 about Higgins, and there were ‘rumours about Higgins circulating’ while he was there, with at least one other coach having heard these.
The report said: ‘Given these factors, my provisional conclusion is that the club should have taken steps to monitor Higgins’ activities.’
Passing information to the police following a complaint ‘should have happened more quickly,’ the report added.
It added: ‘Had Higgins been properly monitored this might have prevented some of his abuse of young players
The report said there ‘may have been lingering doubts’ at the FA about Higgins in 1995 following his 1992 acquittal for indecent assault.