July 2019

Former priest jailed for 18 years for sexually abusing boys at Catholic college

A priest who sexually abused boys in his private headquarters and used a belt to threaten them if they did not comply has been jailed for 18 years.

Michael Higginbottom sexually abused two teenage boys at St Joseph’s College in Upholland, near Skelmersdale , in the 70s and 80s.

Today, following a re-trial at Burnley Crown Court , he was found guilty of five counts of serious sexual assault and seven counts of indecent assault.

His first victim came forward to the police in 2016, to report that he had suffered mental, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of Higginbottom between the years of 1978 and 1979.

The second victim saw a TV news report of the initial trial in 2017 and recognised the priest as he had also sexually abused him in the mid-1980s.

The court heard how the boys did not attend the school at the same time and do not know each other, but they gave evidence of having been through similar experiences.

In his private headquarters, the now 76-year-old, would sexually abuse the boys and if they didn’t comply, he would threaten to hit them or whip them with a belt.

Wendy Chappell for the CPS said: “Michael Higginbottom carried out a series of violent sexual assaults, often using a belt to threaten or hit them if the boys were not compliant.

“He carried out the offences whilst in a position of trust within the school and the community as a priest and a teacher, which he breached in the most horrific way.

“Through the case Higginbottom described the allegations as ‘total lies’ and claimed he did not remember either of the boys.

“However, after we presented the overwhelming evidence against him before the court, the jury found him unanimously guilty of all the charges he faced.

“I would like to pay tribute to the two victims for their immense courage in coming forward and re-living their traumatic experiences by giving evidence against their abuser, with the first victim having to re-live it a second time at the re-trial.

“I hope that following today’s sentence they will be able to find some closure.”

Higginbottom was originally convicted in 2017 of the offences in relation to the first victim but faced a re-trial after the convictions were quashed on appeal.

The re-trial included an additional charge in relation to the second victim.

Priest convicted of sexually abusing schoolboys

A Priest has been convicted of sexually abusing schoolboys at a Catholic seminary in the 1970s and 1980s.

Father Michael Higginbottom, 76, had originally been convicted in 2017 of the indecent assault and buggery of one boy at St Joseph’s College in Upholland, Lancashire, but faced a retrial after the convictions were quashed on appeal.

He was also accused of abusing a second student, at his retrial at Burnley Crown Court, and was charged with a total of five counts of buggery and seven counts of indecent assault.

A jury found him guilty of all charges on Monday, a spokesman for the court said.

Both complainants said they were abused by Higginbottom in his private living quarters at the boarding school for boys aged 12 to 18, the court heard.

The first complainant attended the college in the late 1970s because he had decided to become a priest.

He told police that St Joseph’s was a “cold, dark and forbidding place” and it was the venue for “mental, physical and sexual abuse” as teacher Higginbottom forced himself on him “again and again”.

Lawyers for Higginbottom suggested the complainant had made up the allegations so he could claim compensation.

Jurors were told he had been found guilty of a fraud in which he pocketed a four-figure sum.

The second complainant, who came forward after seeing a report of the first trial on TV news, claimed he was sexually abused by Higginbottom when he attended the school in the mid-1980s.

Higginbottom, of West Farm Road, Newcastle, denied the allegations and told the court he could not remember either complainant.

He is due to be sentenced tomorrow.