VICTIMS of predatory paedophile Bob Higgins have told how the ‘pure evil’ youth coach manipulated their trust and abused them for his own ‘sick perverted satisfaction’.
One by one the statements of many of the 24 victims were read out at Winchester Crown Court as the 66-year-old waits to be sentenced for 46 charges of indecent assault between 1971 to 1996.
They detailed the varying horrific consequences of the abuse: alcoholism, suicide attempts, poor mental health, struggles to form relationships – and the feeling they had been robbed of a chance to become professional footballers.
At points ex-players broke into tears – including when the statement from Billy Seymour, who died in a crash in January, was read by his mother. Mr Seymour told how his life went into ‘self-destruct’.
Higgins was convicted of groping them during post-exercise soapy massages as well as at his home and in his car.
Ex-Southampton player Lee Smith, who left the club for Portsmouth after he was abused by Higgins, told how the pensioner gave him ‘an opportunity that every young boy dreams about’ with training.
The 46-year-old, of Portsmouth, who has waived his right to anonymity, was supported with his wife in the witness box as he addressed Higgins, who had offered him to ‘teach me the rights and wrongs of life’ at the age of 13-14.
Speaking in court, Lee said: ‘Hearing you admit to being sexually aroused while giving these [naked soap water] massages in the previous trial just goes to show just what kind of person you actually were: a monster.’
He added his life changed ‘on that fateful night in the Southampton gymnasium at the old Dell, my life changed in an instant.’
Lee said: ‘In that split second you changed from being a father figure to a bully, a child abuser and a sexual predator. I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there and get home.
‘My life changed that night and what you done will stay in my mind forever. Just for your own sick perverted satisfaction my chances of becoming a professional with Southampton FC were over. You ruined my dream.’
Earlier Lee had said he hoped to become a professional player to help his single mother who was on benefits living on a council estate.
He added: ‘You thought you were untouchable, your arrogance was your downfall. I hope your new neighbours stare at you daily, making you paranoid, just as I once felt. I want you to suffer just like I have.’
Each statement read aloud by a victim was applauded by those gathered in the public gallery.
Judge Peter Dixon Crabtree urged people to remain ‘dignified’ when he sentences Higgins today.
Alistair MacDonald QC, for Higgins, says: ‘We invite the court to stand back – this morning has been very emotional – to stand back, to take emotion out of the sentencing exercise and to have full regard to the principle of totality, recognise that Mr Higgins is now 66 years of age.'
Sentencing is due to take around 90 minutes from 10am today.