Southampton failed to protect boys in their custody by failing to act on rumors of child abuser Bob Higgins, an independent review has concluded.
Higgins was sentenced to 24 years in prison in 2019 for sexually abusing schoolchildren between 1971 and 1996.
A review commissioned by Southampton and conducted by the children’s organization Barnardo’s concluded that the club’s board must have been aware of rumors circulating about Higgins’ behavior, but failed to respond to them.
“It is our opinion that despite allegations 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 the case, they failed to do anything to to find out if there could be any content in the rumors, “the review states.
“By not doing so, either on purpose or by default, the club failed to put the safety and well-being of the boys concerned first.”
The review said there was no evidence the club was trying to explore the reasons why a talented footballer, selected by the Football Association to train at its national training ground, did not want to return to Southampton despite having only written under a few months earlier.
It also concluded that it was “very likely” that the board would have been informed of a letter from the FA suggesting that questions be asked about Higgins.
The review concluded that the board “knew there were some issues causing ‘unrest’ but took no action, leaving boys vulnerable and Higgins free to continue abusing them”.
The review also criticized the club for their lack of immediate reporting of a 1989 accusation of abuse to police.
Instead, the audit found that it took the board four months to decide that this action should be taken.
The club also did not inform any of the boys concerned why Higgins was no longer in Southampton, which the review again considered to be a breach of the club’s duty of care.
The review concluded that it was “practical” for the board to “minimize and disregard” significant concerns about Higgins.
“The club constantly failed in its duty of care to boys, and this made them and other boys vulnerable to ongoing abuse by Higgins, which affected their lives as children and the adults they became,” the review said.
“The consequences of and the harm caused by Higgins’ abuse of children in his custody during his time at Southampton Football Club are erratic. The damage to their physical and mental health as they grew up, their relationships, their families and even their ability to be parents with confidence has been devastating.
“It is these individuals who, in our view, have paid the price for what appears to be the inertia of board members who failed to ensure that young boys, in contact with Higgins, were as well protected as they should have been.
“We do not believe that there were any considerations or malicious intentions from these individuals, it is our view that they simply did not consider the well-being of boys as their responsibility, and since Higgins had left their employment, they saw no reason to warn anyone about the allegations that had been made against him. “
Southampton said in a statement that the current board fully accepted all the results of the review and issued an apology to the victims and the survivors of the abuse.
“Bob Higgins held so many young boys’ dreams in his hands,” the club’s statement said.
“He completely betrayed the trust of these boys and their families. We now know that Higgins had unbridled power in Southampton Football Club and that they in senior positions did nothing to ensure that appropriate controls were in place to prevent abuse. in to occur.
“We doubt that anyone in the club at the time wanted the abuse to take place. But in the same way, no one in a position of power did anything to properly find out what was going on, to take steps to ensure that the abuse was stopped and properly reported once it had been discovered, or to offer support to those targeted by Higgins.
“Those in power in the club should have known what was going on at a much earlier time. We have seen evidence that even when senior officials found out about the allegations of abuse at that time, they did not appear to do so. something to act on and still failed to report the abuse properly.These errors shockingly gave Bob Higgins time off to work in football until he was arrested in 2016.
“Everyone who works at the club today is truly and deeply saddened by the injury and subsequent anguish that the victims and survivors of the abuse perpetrated by Bob Higgins have suffered over so many years.”
For more information on child abuse, sexual abuse or exploitation for either you or someone close to you, please see the list of organizations listed in the child abuse section of Sky’s Viewer Support page.