November 2013

Belfast restaurateur jailed for abusing boy from age of 5

A restaurateur who tried to pay off a young sex victim for 10 years of abuse has been jailed for three years and put on the sex offenders’ register for life.

Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarland told Michael Higgins, who offered his victim thousands of pounds for his silence, that his abuse was “an appalling episode in this young boy’s life”.

The 47-year-old owner of The Square Restaurant, on Belfast’s ‘Golden Mile’, was convicted of 26 sex abuse charges, 10 of indecent assault and 16 of committing or inciting acts of gross indecency in the 1980s and 1990s.

Judge McFarland said that Higgins, from the Ormeau Road, was in his 20s when he first abused his then five-year-old victim, who, according to reports, had been left damaged and would only recover slowly.

“This young boy has suffered substantially from the abuse he has had to endure from the ages of five to 15,” said the Crown Court judge.

His victim said afterwards that he was “happy with the result”, and the fact that he was “believed by the jury after all of these years”. With regard to the sentence, he added that he felt “justice has been done”.

Judge McFarland said the aggravating factors in Higgins’ case included the youth of his victim, the prolonged abuse he suffered and the impact it has had on him. In mitigation was his clear record, and the fact that his conviction and imprisonment will have a devastating affect on him and his family.

The judge said he had taken into account the evidence of two of Belfast’s leading businessmen, jeweller Peter Lunn and developer David Frazier, who, among others, had provided a number of positive references reflecting Higgins’ good standing within the community.

Mr Lunn, a family friend for 30 years, said Higgins was the “heartbeat of the family” and was “very much the face” of his restaurant, and that his absence may affect the viability of the business.

Judge McFarland also said that despite Higgins’ continued denials, there appeared to be a willingness on his part to engage in therapeutic work.

Higgins also agreed, upon his release from prison, to serve a further three years on probation to undertake the community sex offenders’ programme. Judge McFarland also imposed a Sex Offenders Prevention Order.

The jury rejected Higgins’ protests of innocence, although he did admit that on one occasion when drunk he had engaged in “20 seconds” of mutual touching with his victim, whom he claimed was by then aged 16.

“I was drunk, it was a moment of madness and for that I have gone through four-and-a-half years of hell,” Higgins had claimed.

He admitted he had offered to pay his victim, but claimed he had not freely offered the cash, but was “being blackmailed”.

However, the jury accepted the claims of his victim, that the offer of money was a bribe, that he was abused for a decade when he was was aged five and that it continued until he was 13, with a further single incident when he was 15.