Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Football coach Bob Higgins 'apologised to sex abuse victim'

Bob Higgins Image copyright Solent News & Photo Agency
Image caption The former football coach was regarded as "a god" by one trainee, the court heard

A football coach accused of sexually abusing boys later apologised to one alleged victim and told him he had "found God", a jury has been told.

Bob Higgins is accused of groping and sexually touching 24 boys, mostly Southampton and Peterborough United youth players, between 1971 and 1996.

Mr Higgins said sorry to one complainant more than 15 years after molesting him, his retrial heard.

Mr Higgins, 66, denies 51 counts of indecent assault.

Image caption Mr Higgins used a supermarket bag to partially cover his face as he entered the court on Tuesday

A police interview with the complainant was played to Bournemouth Crown Court.

He described being 13 years old when he was first "coerced" into the defendant's bed in the early 1970s.

"I lost my virginity… at the hands of Robert Francis Higgins," the complainant said.

"I knew nothing about sex until he showed me in that bed."

He said he was forced to perform sex acts on Mr Higgins "at least twice a week".

"I knew in my heart it was totally wrong what he was doing," the complainant added.

Image caption Mr Higgins is accused of sexually touching and groping 24 boys between 1971 and 1996

The court heard he was visited by Mr Higgins in hospital more than 15 years later while he was recovering from an operation.

"He leaned over me and said 'I am sorry'," the complainant told police.

"Not 'I am sorry for abusing you' - just 'I am sorry, I found God and I need to say sorry'."

The complainant said he "went absolutely ballistic" in response to the apology and that Mr Higgins was then escorted away from him.

Under cross-examination, defence barrister Alistair MacDonald QC asked the complainant: "No abuse of any sort occurred did it?"

The complainant replied: "I disagree strongly. He knows exactly what he did to me."

Mr MacDonald asked why he had not confided in anybody about the alleged abuse.

"I was 12, 13 years of age. I felt dirty, I felt ashamed," the complainant said.

Image caption Jurors were told a victim came forward after seeing Gary Lineker talking about the subject on TV

Earlier, the jury was told the defendant used seemingly legitimate teaching techniques as "cover" to sexually abuse young trainees.

Some of the victims were molested while being shown how to do physical exercises or during soap-water massages, the court was told.

Adam Feest QC, prosecuting, told Bournemouth Crown Court how a complainant was touched inappropriately while being given massages.

The same teenager was groped as Mr Higgins gave him instructions on how to do stretches, Mr Feest said.

"Such touching cannot be justified by anything else that was happening at the time... and can only have been motivated by sexual desire," the prosecutor told the jurors.

The court heard another of the complainants was prompted to come forward in December 2016 after watching former England striker Gary Lineker on television talking about alleged sexual abuse at Chelsea.

The teenager, who was aged around 13 or 14 at the time, regarded Mr Higgins as "a god" and was touched inappropriately during massages, the jury was told.

Mr Higgins, who now lives in Torquay, later performed a sex act on the trainee, who was staying overnight at the defendant's home, while "pretending to wash" him, the court was told.

The trial continues.

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