Southampton youth players denied 'justice' over paedophile Bob Higgins launch bid to change double-jeopardy laws

Victims of ex-football coach Bob Higgins, their families and supporters outside Winchester Crown Court as Higgins was sentenced to 24 years and three months in prison for sexually abusing schoolboy football players over a 25-year period
Victims of ex-football coach Bob Higgins, their families and supporters gathered outside Winchester Crown Court as Higgins was sentenced to 24 years and three months in prison for sexually abusing schoolboy football players over a 25-year period Credit: PA

Three of Bob Higgins’s accusers have launched a public campaign to change the law on double jeopardy after it prevented him being prosecuted for sexually abusing them and three other schoolboys.

The Telegraph can reveal that the former Southampton youth players have instructed their lawyer to lobby the Government on their behalf after revealing for the first time their pain and anger at being denied “justice” over their complaints against one of football’s most prolific paedophiles.

Higgins was jailed on Wednesday for almost 25 years for molesting two-dozen schoolboys over the same period.

The 66-year-old’s convictions came more than a quarter of a century after he was acquitted of abusing six others following prosecutions over which serious questions have emerged.

The law currently prevents Higgins being re-tried in those cases, despite only one of them – that of Dean Radford – being heard in court in 1991 before collapsing.

A lawyer representing Radford and another two of Higgins’s original accusers has now written to the Home Secretary and Justice Secretary urging them to make all forms of sexual abuse exempt from double jeopardy, as well as lodging a petition for publication on the Parliament website.

The public campaign follows two years of private lobbying, during which the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) told one of those affected it had “no plans” to change a law preventing someone acquitted of a crime being retried unless the alleged offence is classified “serious” under the Criminal Justice Act 2003, something child molestation is not.

Dean Radford, who waived his right to anonymity, speaking outside Winchester Crown Court Credit: PA

Radford, who waived his right to anonymity 22 years ago, said: “I want to do everything I can to get this law changed, not just for me but for everybody else.”

Those sentiments were echoed by another of Higgins’s original accusers, who said his only input into the initial prosecutions had been his police complaint and that he was not informed his case was subject to double jeopardy until after he came forward again 27 years later.

“I went mental,” he said, revealing he was talked out of suing the Crown Prosecution Service after being warned doing so could jeopardise Higgins’s conviction in any fresh cases.

He instead agreed to give evidence in those as a “bad-character” witness, as did Radford, something they said compounded the burning injustice of not being recognised as victims.

Both branded that “a disgrace”, with Radford adding: “It’s like saying, ‘Yes, we know he did it to you. But you can’t have justice’.

“He’s ‘not guilty’ for what he did to me over two-and-a-half years – repeatedly.”

His former team-mate said: “Before Jimmy Savile, before Barry Bennell, before all of this, I went to the police and made my statement. Where’s my justice?

“I should have a conviction behind Bob Higgins like everyone else and he should be doing extra time because of me.”

Revealing he could not bring himself to attend Higgins’s sentencing, at which the latter was read victim-impact statements before being imprisoned, he added: “The whole reason I went to court and went through this s--- – talking about sex abuse with all these people I didn’t even know – was purely 100 per cent I knew he was guilty and I just wanted to look him in the eyes and tell him, ‘I’ve won; you haven’t’. Now I can’t even do that.”

He described himself as “lost”, while Radford said that despite being “absolutely elated” for the 24 victims who did secure convictions, he had been “so low” since the trial.

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of Bob Higgins watching a witness interview in the dock at Salisbury Crown Court Credit: PA

Both men are also still searching for answers about the 1991 prosecutions, which Radford said he only recently learnt had been ordered to be split into six separate trials, one for each alleged victim.

That contrasts sharply with the recent prosecutions, which ended in a single trial featuring multiple complainants.

Hampshire Constabulary led the police investigations on both occasions and Assistant Chief Constable Ben Snuggs said: “Unfortunately, complaints made by some victims in the 1990s weren’t treated in the same way as they would be today.

“I am genuinely sorry that some who did come forward did not get the justice they deserved when they originally raised concerns about Bob Higgins in the 1990s. I recognise that this will have been upsetting.”

Radford and the other player who spoke to the Telegraph are both represented by leading child-abuse lawyer Dino Nocivelli, of Bolt Burdon Kemp, who also acts on behalf of other victims of Higgins.

He said: “Lots of my clients are relieved that Higgins has finally been found guilty of these heinous crimes.

“But, in relation to these six individuals, they have been forgotten to a large extent. Double jeopardy, in this instance, has only served to cause a double injustice to them.

“Every incident of child abuse is serious. It is a life sentence on the victims and survivors.

“Double-jeopardy rules should be changed immediately to take account of this exception.”

As of last night, the Government had yet to respond to Nocivelli’s letters but, despite branding child sexual abuse a “heinous crime”, an MoJ spokesman told the Telegraph the double-jeopardy rule existed to ensure “an acquitted defendant cannot be unnecessarily subjected to additional prosecutions”.