Harry Redknapp criticises FA over coach claims

Harry Redknapp Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Harry Redknapp says rumours about Bob Higgins had been rife

Former Premier League manager Harry Redknapp has said the Football Association could have done more to monitor an ex-Southampton coach accused of historical sexual abuse.

He told the BBC "rumours" that Bob Higgins may have abused young players in the 1980s had been "rife" for years.

The FA has appointed Clive Sheldon QC to lead its review into abuse.

Mr Higgins has denied all allegations and was acquitted of sexual abuse charges in 1992.

The BBC understands Mr Higgins left Southampton after concerns were raised about his behaviour, and a TV documentary then broadcast the testimony of eight alleged victims.

Mr Redknapp, who was manager of Southampton from 2004 to 2005 and who has also managed Portsmouth and Bournemouth on the south coast, said: "I've known him for a long time, he was probably the leading youth development guy in the country.

"But then the rumours were going around at that time and there was a programme I watched where this young guy spoke about Bob Higgins and the type of stuff he was doing with kids at Southampton and I thought that would be the end of him.

"I'm just amazed that he's been involved in football since that day."

Mr Redknapp said there "must have been people" at Southampton that had heard the rumours that Mr Higgins had sexually abused children.

"Southampton's a great football club, and it's run by fantastic people there now.

"They had a great manager, Lawrie McMenemy. If Lawrie had suspected anything I'm sure Lawrie would have well and truly booted him out.

"But until you can actually prove something or there's a bit of evidence, it's very difficult."

But "I certainly think the FA could have done a bit more to monitor him and make sure he wasn't allowed back into football," he said.

He said he had not sent his son Jamie to Southampton as a young player - but not because of rumours about Mr Higgins.

'Nowhere near'

In 1997, police and social services sent a joint letter to schools and youth groups warning them that "Mr Higgins poses a risk to children".

Mr Redknapp said if he had received such a letter he would have had him "nowhere near" a football club he managed.

Image caption Bob Higgins was acquitted of sexual abuse charges in 1992

After Southampton, Mr Higgins was hired by Winchester City FC but was only there a few months.

At a meeting with Hampshire County Council and the local FA, Winchester representatives were shown the TV documentary that had aired a few years earlier and it was made clear it was inappropriate for Mr Higgins to stay at the club.

Ray Barnes, Hampshire FA chief for 25 years who was at the meeting, would later be convicted of indecently assaulting three boys in an unrelated incident.

After this Mr Higgins went on to work for two other clubs, most recently Fleet Town until three weeks ago, the BBC understands.

The Football League warned its clubs about Mr Higgins as far back as 1989.

A letter advised them not to work with his youth football academy but did not provide any reasons.

The letter said the Football League, Football Association and English Schools Football Association were "opposed to the activities of this organisation".

'Risk to children'

He was not police checked for the later football coaching job at Fleet Town FC in 2012 as his role did not involve him working with children.

Six former Southampton youth players have come forward with allegations about Mr Higgins. Hampshire police has confirmed it is investigating.

Mr Redknapp has urged other players to come forward with what they know.

The FA has yet to respond to the comments but has launched an internal review into historical abuse allegations.

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Media captionFormer Premier League manager Harry Redknapp says the FA "could have done more" to monitor Southampton youth coach Bob Higgins, who has been accused of abusing boys.

In a statement, it said: "The FA has today published the full terms of reference for the review into issues arising from the recent press reports relating to allegations of non-recent child sexual abuse in football.

The review covers what was known and what actions were taken by the FA from the 1970s. The FA said the precise number of players, alleged abusers and clubs it would investigate was as yet unknown.

It has appointed Clive Sheldon QC to lead the review, replacing Kate Gallafent QC, who was originally appointed.

Southampton FC has said it is working with police and investigating how it has handled these issues in the past.

The BBC has made several attempts to speak to Mr Higgins without success.

Gagging orders

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Media captionEdward Smethurst: "It seems entirely inappropriate for such clauses to be used"

Separately, a lawyer representing a new body supporting victims said "calls and emails are coming in all the time" from players claiming to have been forced to sign non-disclosure agreements with clubs in return for compensation.

"Certainly, the allegations have been made by victims that confidentiality clauses have been used in relation to other clubs but I'm not in a position to independently verify this," said Edward Smethurst, who also chairs the Madeleine McCann Fund.

"It's unfolding as we speak. It's a number. It's several (but) less than five."

The claims come after Chelsea FC apologised to former player Gary Johnson for the abuse he suffered as a trainee in the 1970s, having waived the confidentiality clause in a £50,000 agreement they made with him last year.

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