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THE “inertia” of Southampton’s board allowed Bob Higgins free to continue to abuse boys at the club, causing them “incalculable” damage, an independent review has concluded.
Children’s charity Barnardo’s said in its review that Southampton had failed to protect boys in their care by not acting on rumours concerning Higgins, who was jailed for 24 years in 2019 for abusing schoolboy footballers over a 25-year period.
The review, commissioned by Southampton, said: “It is our view that, despite assertions 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 so, they failed to take any action to find out whether there could be any substance to the rumours.
“By not doing so, either intentionally or by default, the club failed to put the safety and welfare of boys concerned first.”
The review said there was no evidence that the club tried 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 only signing a few months earlier.
It also concluded it was “highly likely” the board would have been informed of a letter from the FA which suggested questions were being asked about Higgins.
The review concluded that the board “knew there were some issues which caused ‘disquiet’ but took no action, leaving boys vulnerable and Higgins free to continue abusing them.”
The review also criticised the club over their failure to immediately report allegations of abuse made to them in 1989 to the police.
The club also did not inform any of the affected boys about Higgins’s departure from Southampton, which the review again deemed to be a failure in the club’s duty of care.
The review concluded it was “convenient” for the board to “minimise and disregard” significant concerns about Higgins.
“The club persistently failed in exercising a duty of care to boys and this left them and other boys vulnerable to ongoing abuse by Higgins which impacted upon their lives as children and the adults they became,” the review said.
Southampton said in a statement that the current board fully accepted all the findings of the review and issued an apology to the victims and survivors of the abuse.
“Everyone working at the club today is truly and deeply sorry for the harm and subsequent anguish that the victims and survivors of the abuse carried out by Bob Higgins have suffered over the course of so many years,” the club statement said.
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