Independent Review Released Into Sexual Abuse at Southampton FC

An independent review into historic child abuse by Bob Higgins has concluded that Southampton Football Club failed to protect the boys in its care.

Southampton FC commissioned the review and has published the full report conducted by children’s charity Barnardo’s into historic abuse at the Club in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as its own response, on its website.

Higgins was found guilty of 46 counts of indecent assault on 24 victims, predominantly Southampton and Peterborough United trainees in the 1970s and 1980s, and was jailed for 24 years in 2019.

The review states that “It is our view that, despite assertions to the contrary, the board and/or management must at some point have heard or been told about stories circulating about Higgins and if this was so, they failed to take any action to find out whether there could be any substance to the rumours,” and that “by not doing so, either intentionally or by default, the club failed to put the safety and welfare of boys concerned first.”

The report also said that when Higgins’ alleged sexual abuse of boys was brought to the board’s attention, it did not immediately inform the police, nor, when he left, did the club inform the boys why Higgins was no longer at Southampton.

Barnardo’s spoke with 26 men who, as young boys, knew or were a victim of Higgins. According to the review, young players saw Higgins as a ‘god’ and a ‘father figure’, and that boys were “vying for his attention“. They told how he groomed them with gifts and pledges.

The report concluded: “Regardless of what we know now, adults who were charged with the care of children and young people even then, owed them a duty of care which, in our professional judgment, was disregarded by those who were responsible for the safety and well-being of boys who played with the club.

“We do not believe there was any deliberation or malign intent by these individuals, it is our view they simply did not consider the wellbeing of boys as their responsibility and once Higgins had left their employ saw no reason to alert anyone about the allegations that had been made against him.

“The impact of and damage caused by Higgins’ abuse of children in his care during the time he was employed by Southampton Football Club is incalculable. The damage to their physical and mental health as they grew up, their relationships, their families and even their ability to confidently parent has been devastating.”

In response to the report, Southampton said in a statement that the current board fully accepted all the findings of the review and issued an apology to the victims and survivors of the abuse.

It said: “Bob Higgins held the dreams of so many young boys in his hands. He completely betrayed the trust of those boys and their families. 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 have been determined to find an appropriate response for all of the victims and survivors of abuse at the club as well as their families. 

We hope that the work completed by Barnardo’s may finally help us all to understand how it could be that a predatory paedophile was allowed to operate seemingly undetected at Southampton Football Club for more than a decade before going on to work elsewhere in football until 2016.

None of the steps we have taken to improve the safety of the young players that we work with now lessens the pain or suffering of anyone abused by Bob Higgins. 

However, we do hope that this report shows them that their experiences have helped to shape a world where it is far more difficult for anyone to be able to carry out such horrific sexual abuse.

The club says it is “deeply sorry for the harm and subsequent anguish” that the victims and that survivors of the abuse carried out by Bob Higgins have suffered.

The full report and response along with information for those affected are available to read at https://www.southamptonfc.com/news/2021-11-26/barnardos-independent-review-report-published


Written by Michael Lee at BLM (michael.lee@blmlaw.com)

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