Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Bob Higgins: Football coach abuse claims are 'false memories'

Bob Higgins Image copyright Other
Image caption Ex-Southampton youth football coach Bob Higgins is accused of multiple counts of indecent assault against boys

Allegations of sex abuse against an ex-professional football coach are "false memories or lies", a court has heard.

Prosecutors had "dredged up" historical charges against Bob Higgins after allowing a "fog of delay... to obscure the view", his defence barrister said.

Referring to some of the allegations, Alistair MacDonald QC said showering with trainees was "ordinary behaviour" for coaches at that time.

Mr Higgins, 65, denies 50 counts of indecent assault against teenage boys.

The offences are alleged to have taken place between 1971 and 1996. Most of the 24 alleged victims are former trainees at Southampton and Peterborough United.

Image caption He denies assaulting 24 teenage boys, mostly football club trainees, between 1971 and 1996

In his closing speech at Winchester Crown Court, Mr MacDonald said the eight-week trial had been a "monster of the prosecution's making".

"Every conceivable touch, however slight, however accidental, has been thrown into the mix... with the clear intention that mud sticks," the barrister said.

He said the prosecution had relied on evidence from a previous trial in the early 1990s, which had ended with Mr Higgins' acquittal.

'Completely above board'

It had also resurrected allegations which prosecutors had not proceeded with in 2013, he told the jury.

Delays in presenting evidence had "substantially prejudiced" the defendant, he argued.

Referring to some of the allegations, he said Mr Higgins' soap-water massages for the boys were "completely above board".

Mr MacDonald also said Mr Higgins denied being "turned on" by the massages, contrary to the prosecution's claims.

Complainants had socialised with Mr Higgins or written "heartfelt" letters of appreciation to him after the abuse was alleged to have taken place, the barrister told the jury.

He said it was "bordering on the ridiculous" to suggest that the youth coach would have risked his "hugely successful" career by assaulting young boys.

Image copyright Julia Quenzler
Image caption Bob Higgins denies assaulting 24 teenage boys, mostly football club trainees, between 1971 and 1996

Summing up, Judge Jonathan Fuller QC said Mr Higgins had been the "gatekeeper" to boys who dreamed of a career in football.

The judge said many of the allegations against Mr Higgins had similar features, including locations and a "degree of influence or control" over the alleged victims.

He said the jury should consider whether witnesses were truly independent of each other, lying or "otherwise unreliable".

The trial continues.

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