Hampshire & Isle of Wight

Bob Higgins abuse: Court hears impact on Billy Seymour's life

Bob Higgins Image copyright Solent News & Photo Agency
Image caption Bob Higgins was convicted of dozens of counts of indecent assault

A former footballer, abused by paedophile coach Bob Higgins, "self-destructed" later in life, a court has heard.

Higgins, 66, was convicted of indecently assaulting 24 boys, mostly Southampton and Peterborough trainees.

A victim impact statement written by Billy Seymour, before his death in a car crash in January, said the abuse had "debilitated my whole life".

Sentence is due to be passed on Higgins on Wednesday.

In May, Higgins was found guilty at his retrial of 45 counts of indecent assault between 1971 and 1996. He was convicted of another count last year.

Victims were abused during post-exercise soapy massages, in his car while he played love songs on the stereo and at his home where he cuddled with boys on his sofa.

Impact statements are being read at a sentencing hearing at Winchester Crown Court.

Image caption Billy Seymour died when the van in which he was a passenger, crashed

Mr Seymour, a Southampton youth player who went on to play for Coventry City and Millwall, had waived his right to anonymity to speak publicly.

He gave evidence at last year's trial but was killed in a car crash in January before he could give evidence at the retrial.

Reading his words, addressed to Higgins, his mother Jean said: "I am sick to my stomach of giving you any more thought. I have been a broken man. You have debilitated my whole life.

"The mist is clearing. I can see some light at the end of the tunnel. I will beat the hating of you in my soul. This is closure. Goodbye, Bob Higgins."

Mrs Seymour said her son's personality "changed completely" after the abuse, and his "unpredictable behaviour wreaked havoc" on her family.

She said he made suicide attempts, was admitted to mental institutions and was diagnosed as bipolar and with a borderline personality disorder.

Other victims' statements described suicidal thoughts and panic attacks.

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Media captionBob Higgins "did not speak a single word" during 15 hours of interviews, police said

One man, who cannot be named, told the court Higgins had elevated him from a "slacker" to "the pride of my family and school" by selecting him as a trainee.

He said it "all came tumbling down during a naked soapy massage" at a training camp aged 16.

Pausing to compose himself, he added that he had occasionally considered taking his own life and said he had been let down by football authorities.

"Where was Southampton? Where was the FA? Where was their due diligence and safeguarding procedures?"

A former Peterborough United trainee broke down as he told the court the former coach and born-again Christian was "pure evil".

"You stripped away my family and friends so I would depend on you. I idolised you and hung on your every word.

'Unreserved apology'

"You thought you were a god. You are not even a man of God."

Each statement read by a former player was greeted by applause from the public gallery while Higgins listened impassively.

Higgins faced trial last year, but a retrial was ordered after jurors failed to reach verdicts on 48 counts of indecent assault.

The allegations arose after the NSPCC set up a dedicated helpline for people who had encountered childhood abuse within football.

Southampton FC offered an "unreserved apology" to his victims last week.

In a statement, the club said it recognised boys under its care "suffered exposure to abuse when they should have received protection from any form of harm".

'Keep quiet or risk losing everything'

Image copyright Other

During his time as a coach, Bob Higgins worked with young footballers who would go on to become national heroes and household names.

But others were not so fortunate.

Some were haunted by their ordeals, and gave up on football entirely.

Such was Higgins's hold over those he abused, many felt unable to say anything, even to close family members, for up to 30 years.

Read more: The 'star-maker' who abused young footballers

A BBC South Today documentary about the Higgins case, A Saint and a Sinner, is available on BBC iPlayer

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