Priest at former Wigan seminary found guilty of historical sexual abuse

Fr Michael Higginbottom

Fr Michael Higginbottom

A catholic priest has been convicted of sexually abusing a young boy in his care nearly 40 years ago.

Father Michael Higginbottom, who stood in the dock listening to proceedings using the loop system, showed no reaction when the jury found him guilty following ten hours 21 minutes deliberations.

He was convicted by 10-2 majority verdicts and one of the six women jurors wiped away tears as their verdicts were announced by the foreman.

Judge Andrew Menary, QC, told 74-year-old Higginbottom that a custodial sentence was inevitable but adjourned sentencing until tomorrow. “It is a delicate matter which requires careful consideration,” he said.

During the six day trial Liverpool Crown Court heard that the victim was

just 13 and 14 years old when Higginbottom began seriously abusing him in varied ways at a seminary in UpHolland.

The victim “recalls the college as a cold, dark and forbidding place. He told police that for him it was the venue for ‘mental, physical and sexual abuse’,” claimed David Temkin, prosecuting.

He repeated sexually abused him “breaching that trust in a spectacular and horrific way,” he said.

Higginbottom, of West Farm Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, was convicted of four offences of gross indecency and four of indecent assault between September 1978 and March 20, 1979. He denied all the offences.

The Catholic Diocese of Liverpool paid out £35,000 to another former pupil who alleged he was sexually abused by Higginbottom at the college in the late 1970’s. The payment was made without admission of liability and Higginbottom was never charged in relation to that allegation.

He was suspended by the church in 2004 from his parish in Darlington.

The court heard that he had been a priest and teacher at St Joseph’s College, Upholland. The four storey seminary, which no longer exists, catered for boys aged about 11 to 18, many of whom were considering a vocation in the priesthood and they boarded there during term time.

The victim, now 52, told the jury that the abuse began after he had become a pupil at the school for just over a week. He took the boy into his living quarters and locked the door.

He ordered him to undress and undressed himself and began molesting him and then sexually abused him in the most serious way. The same thing happened two days later and it repeatedly happened as did other forms of sexual abuse.

He also told how Higginbottom would use a strap and a cane on him to inflict punishment. Nearly all the offences occurred in the priest’s living quarters but he also abused him when he was ill in the college infirmary.

His ordeal came to an end when he deliberately stole a watch and was expelled. It was only in 2013 that he revealed his ordeal to a friend and told the police.

HIgginbottom, who had been a physics mater, a football coach and a form teacher at the seminary told police that he did not remember the boy and denied the allegations.

He maintained that in his evidence to the jury. His defence team suggested to the victim that he was fabricating the evidence to get compensation having read about the £35,000 out-of-court settlement, which he denied.