MPS call for law change over child abuser Higgins
The campaign to reform the double jeopardy law so that sexual offenders such as former Southampton and Peterborough United coach Bob Higgins could potentially face retrial for previous allegations has taken a major step forward.
The All-party Parliamentary Group for adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse, which is chaired by Sarah Champion MP, has formally recommended a change to the law which would include all forms of child sexual abuse among those most serious crimes that could be retried in the event of compelling new evidence.
It follows a campaign by the former Southampton footballer Dean Radford, who, as an 18-year-old in 1989, came forward to allege sexual abuse by Higgins, who was coaching schoolboys at Southampton.
Five other players alleged indecent assault but Higgins pleaded not guilty and was acquitted in January 1992. He then continued working in football – abusing teenage boys at Peterborough when he worked there from 1994-96 – until the scandal of child sexual abuse emerged in 2016 and, as revealed last week, 95 people came forward to allege abuse by Higgins. Of those, 82 were prior to 1989 and nine alleged abuse at Peterborough.
The All-party Parliamentary Group’s report outlines how Higgins was then convicted this year of 45 counts of indecent assault involving 23 teenage boys over a 25year period between 1971 and 1996. It states, however, that “the original six complainants, were prevented from their cases being reheard because of the double jeopardy law”.
In an interview last week with The Daily Telegraph, Radford explained the huge importance for him of having the possibility of Higgins face retrial over allegations he first made more than 30 years ago. “Even though I was elated for everyone else to see him [Higgins] convicted, my life won’t be the same unless I get justice,” said Radford.
Both the Hampshire Constabulary and Crown Prosecution Service have said that child sexual abuse allegations are now treated in a different way.
The All-party parliamentary group’s formal recommendation is that the government should legislate to extend the list of offences exempt from double jeopardy law to include “all offences relating to non-penetrative child sexual abuse”. At present, double jeopardy exemptions apply only when there is compelling new evidence in 30 “serious” crimes including murder, rape and class-a drug offences.
The All-party Parliamentary Group’s report specifically states that the Higgins case has “highlighted the need for reform”. It says that “survivors do not differentiate between the severity of different forms of child sexual abuse” and adds that “all forms of child sexual abuse can have a devastating and lifelong impact on survivors’ lives.”
Convicted: Former Southampton and Peterborough United youth coach Bob Higgins