Man denies inventing historical sex abuse claims against Wigan priest

Fr Michael Higginbottom outside Ormskirk Magistrates' Court
Fr Michael Higginbottom outside Ormskirk Magistrates' Court

A man who alleges he was sexually abused by a catholic priest nearly 40 years ago has denied that he invented the claims to get compensation.

“No compensation was on my mind - justice was on my mind,” he told a jury today. (Wed)

The alleged victim has claimed that while he was a pupil at St Joseph’s College, a seminary for prospective priests, in Upholland, Father Michael Higginbottom repeatedly seriously sexually assaulted him.

Fr Higginbottom, now aged 74, of West Farm Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, is on trial at Liverpool Crown Court. He denies eight offences alleged to have taken place between September 1978 and March 20, 1979.

The alleged victim, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, told police that for him it was the venue for ‘mental, physical and sexual abuse’, claimed David Temkin, prosecuting.

The man, who was 13 and 14 at the time, claims that Higginbottom, a physics and form teacher, would use a strap and cane on him to inflict punishment and was taken into the priest’s room just after a week after he arrived at the college where he was attacked.

Adam Birkby, defending, cross-examined the alleged victim today and repeatedly suggested that he had fabricated the evidence in order to gain civil compensation.

The man, now 52, denied this. He agreed he had contacted solicitors in July 2014 after reading an on line article linking the defendant to a civil case involving another former pupil at the establishment who had been awarded £35,000 in an out-of-court settlement for alleged abuse.

But he maintained that he was not interested in obtaining compensation and had never spoken to the lawyer he dealt with about money. He said he rang them because the was annoyed that the article said that the man was going to rebuild his life with the money.

“Would any sum of money put it right?” he posed. “I don’t think he could put life right with any sum of money.”

He was shown a ‘no win no fee’ letter from the solicitors which he agreed he had signed, Asked by Judge Andrew Menary, QC, if he anticipated the solicitor making a claim in the future for him, he replied “I may have but I didn’t want the money.”

The court has heard that he had told no one about his alleged ordeal until October 2013 when he told a friend. He explained that shortly before that he had been at a Christian Fellowship meeting and a man he knew there told him “out of the blue” that the Holy Spirit had told him that he had been violated.

He then told his friend who advised him to tell the police which he did after having contacted the solicitors the next summer.

Further questioned he said: “I wanted that man to feel as scared as I did at Upholland.”

Mr Kirkby suggested to him that none of his allegations were true and he had fabricated them but he maintained that it had “all happened”.

The alleged victim wept while Mr Temkin took the man through his police interview statement in which he told how he had had anger problems. His therapists believed it was because of a serious road traffic accident he had been in and at one stage his wife left him.

The court has heard that he left the seminary after deliberately stealing a watch and being expelled and ran in tears to meet his parents.

“I felt angry that no-one ever wanted to know why I was different when I returned from Upholland,” he sobbed.

The case continues