Priest accused of a series of sex assaults

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

A catholic priest repeatedly sexually abused a young boy in his care “breaching that trust in a spectacular and horrific way,” it has been claimed.

The boy was just 13 and 14 years old when Fr Michael Higginbottom allegedly began seriously abusing him in varied ways at a seminary in West Lancashire.

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”, said David Temkin, prosecuting.

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

Mr Temkin told the jury of six men and six women that Fr Higginbottom had been a priest and teacher at St Joseph’s College, Upholland, although he had not trained as a teacher.

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 alleged victim told police that the defendant would use a strap and a cane on him to inflict punishment. He recalls the defendant telling him that he could ‘make this as easy or as hard’ as he wanted.”

After just a week or so he took the boy into his living quarters and locked the door. He ordered him to undress and undressed himself and began molesting him. “The defendant told him that things would get easier for him at St Joseph’s College.” alleged Mr Temkin.

He then committed buggery on him which was the first “of many such occasions” and he often pushed him over the back of a chair in order to do so.

Mr Temkin said that the boy “remembers feeling ‘excruciating pain” and remembers crying.

The second incident of buggery was two days later. “It was exactly the same. Many other similar occasions followed.”

On other occasions he made the boy perform oral sex on him. “That act of sexual abuse happened again and again.

The venue for most of the sexual abuse was the defendant’s living quarters and if he did not attend at the appointed time he would be struck with a strap as a form of punishment.

Mr Temkin alleged that even if the boy was in the college infirmary Fr Higginbottom “would come to see him and the same kind of sexual abuse would take place there.

“He cannot remember exactly how many times the sexual abuse took place during his time at the college. All that he was able to tell the police was that it was ‘a lot’.”

The court heard that his alleged ordeal came to an end on a day when students were allowed to go home for St Joseph’s Day and he purposely ensured he would not have to return.

He stole an item and made sure he was caught with it and was expelled. “He ran to meet his parents so that they could take him home and he never went back,” claimed Mr Temkin.

For many years he did not reveal what had happened to him but in 2013 he told a friend who encouraged him to report matters to the police.

Fr Higginbottom was arrested on April 13, 2015 at his home in Newcastle. When interviewed he denied all the allegations describing them as “total lies” and said he did not remember the boy.

He said he had been ordained as priest on March 1, 1969 and had worked at the college from 1974 to 1987. He had been a physics master, a football coach and a form teacher.

“He said he had enjoyed his time at the college. He said he was not trained as a teacher and said he lived at the college. He would let boys use his room to make coffee and watch television and watch movies. He said it was common for teachers to let students into their rooms.

“He strenuously denied all of the allegations and added that he had never been attracted to boys or men.”

The trial, expected to last about three weeks, continues