Lancashire

Catholic priest jailed for St Joseph's College sex abuse

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

The victim of a former priest who has been jailed for sex abuse at a Catholic boarding school said he cried so often "I could have drowned in my own tears".

Father Michael Higginbottom was found guilty of the "cruel and sadistic" abuse of a teenage boy at St Joseph's College in Upholland, Lancashire.

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

The 74-year-old, of West Farm Road, Newcastle, was jailed for 17 years.

The court heard the victim, now in his 50s, was aged between 13 and 14 at the time of the abuse, which began about a week after arriving at the school.

He said he was locked in Higginbottom's living quarters and ordered to undress before being sexually assaulted.

'Became numb'

The victim said he would be hit with a strap if he did not go to the physics teacher's quarters at allocated times.

In a statement read to the court, he said: "My sexual abuse happened so often I became numb to what was happening to me.

"I cried so often I believe I could have drowned in my own tears."

He said he used to pray that he would die to escape the abuse.

"There are worse things than death - living with an evil man and being left alone at Upholland," he said.

Higginbottom denied ever sexually abusing a boy in his care.

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 court heard Higginbottom would give electric shocks to pupils as a punishment.

Sentencing, Judge Andrew Menary QC said: "For a period of six months in the late 1970s you made a young boy's life a living hell.

"What you did to him there effectively destroyed the remainder of his childhood and did a good job of destroying any faith he ever had."

He added: "You employed methods which today, if not then, would be recognised for what they were - cruel and sadistic bullying."

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.

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

The court heard the victim also made allegations against two other priests at the school, but both had since died.

Higginbottom was told he would have to sign the sex offenders register for life.

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