Lancashire

Catholic priest guilty of St Joseph's College sex abuse

Michael Higginbottom
Image caption Father Michael Higginbottom was a priest and teacher at the boarding school

A former priest has been found guilty of sexually abusing a pupil at a Catholic boarding school in the 1970s.

Father Michael Higginbottom, 74, of West Farm Road, Newcastle, denied subjecting a teenage boy to repeated sexual abuse while he was a teacher at St Joseph's College in Lancashire.

Higginbottom was convicted of four counts of a serious sexual offence and four counts of indecent assault at Liverpool Crown Court.

He will be sentenced on Thursday.

The victim was aged between 13 and 14 at the time of the abuse but only went to the police in 2014 after telling a friend who encouraged him to report it.

He said the abuse began about about a week after he arrived at the school, when he was invited into Higginbottom's living quarters and the defendant locked the door and ordered him to undress before sexually assaulting him.

Image copyright Doug Elliot
Image caption St Joseph's College was described as a venue for "mental, physical and sexual abuse" by the victim

The complainant, now in his 50s, said he would be hit with a strap if he did not go to the physics teacher's living quarters at allocated times.

Adam Birkby, defending, suggested the man had "fabricated" the allegations for compensation.

During the trial, the court heard previous allegations had been made against Higginbottom in 2007 by another former pupil and the Catholic Church had settled out of court for £35,000.

Police had investigated the claims and, although Higginbottom had been charged, no evidence against him was offered in court and not guilty verdicts were entered.

In his evidence, Higginbottom denied ever sexually abusing a boy in his care.

He said he had no memory of the pupil, who attended the school for six months.

The court heard the priest would give electric shocks to pupils, using a Van de Graaff generator, as a punishment.

But Higginbottom said the machines gave only minor electric shocks and did not hurt the boys.

St Joseph's College, in Upholland, Lancashire, which has now closed, was attended by boys aged 11 to 18, many of whom were considering becoming priests.

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