A FORMER youth football coach who carried out a 20-year campaign of sexual abuse while working at two major English football clubs — and led football schools on the Isle of Wight in the late 1980s — has been sentenced to 24 years and 3 months in prison.

Bob Higgins, 66, was sentenced today at Winchester Crown Court for the abuse of boys.

The County Press previously reported his conviction.

Higgins abused youngsters who crossed his path while he was coaching at Southampton Football Club and Peterborough United between 1971 and 1996.

He was famous for spotting and nurturing a number of talented players who went on to achieve significant success in the game, both nationally and internationally.

Claire Booth of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: “Many young boys dream of becoming a footballer and training for a prestigious team.

“Bob Higgins preyed on and abused young boys — some of who adored him — and in doing so tainted and shattered the dreams of many.

“Being scouted by such a talented renowned coach was not something you would have turned down. Sadly it meant some had to grow up with this terrible secret, which for some was all-consuming.”

The jury heard how Higgins used his notoriety and the power that came with his coaching role to gain their trust as well as exploiting the trust of their parents.

When some of the boys challenged Higgins he told them that if they spoke up, no one would believe them and their future would be in jeopardy.

The CPS was able to present evidence of how some of the victims, now adults, have been affected by Higgins’ criminal behaviour.

One victim, Billy Seymour, died before the prosecution, but his evidence was still used in the trial.

Ms Booth added: “We would like to thank all the victims who came forward and who had the courage to face Bob Higgins, as well as their families and all the witnesses.

“We now hope that with this sentence, all the victims in this case will find some closure.”

Many calls were made to the NSPCC helpline following ex-footballer Andy Woodward’s revelation of childhood abuse on television. Higgins' name came up time and time again.

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