Father Michael Higginbottom sentenced for child abuse at Upholland College
On 12 April 2017 Father Michael Higginbottom was found guilty at Liverpool Crown Court of eight offences against a child in his care.
Higginbottom was ordained as a Catholic priest on 1 March 1969 and was a physics master, football coach and form teacher at St Joseph’s Catholic College, Upholland, Lancashire between 1974 and 1987. Also known as Upholland College, St Joseph’s was a seminary containing a junior seminary for boys aged 11 to 18 years of age as well as a senior seminary for those mostly aged between 18 and 24 years of age. Within the five day trial, the college was described as “a cold, dark and forbidding place”. Judge Andrew Menary QC, when sentencing, stated that Upholland was a venue for “mental, physical and sexual abuse”.
Higginbottom was charged, and found guilty, of four counts of indecent assault and four counts of buggery. Seven of these counts were specimen counts, meaning the offences happened on numerous occasions. He was sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court to 17 years’ imprisonment, for offences the Judge called a “significant and wholesale breach of trust”.
In sentencing, which took place on 13 April 2017, it was described how the pupil had been selected by the Bishop to attend the seminary. In summing up, the judge spoke of how the pupil had then been targeted and used for Higginbottom’s own sexual gratification and systematically abused in a calculated manner. Higginbottom’s assaults had destroyed his pupil’s childhood and the religious faith he had held.
Whilst Higginbottom’s “good character” was raised as mitigation and had been supported by character witness statements, this was considered to be limited mitigation in sentencing given that it was because of his trusted positions as a priest and teacher that he had access to his pupil.
The judge said that Higginbottom’s “legacy will only ever be that of a priest who abused a young boy”. It was also commented that Higginbottom had used “excessive and sadistic” methods of cruel bullying against a number of pupils.
I have been instructed by the former pupil on whom the above criminal case focussed to pursue a case against Upholland College for childhood sexual abuse suffered at the hands of Father Higginbottom, Father Hothersall and Father Cobham. All three were Catholic priests and worked at Upholland College when the proven and further alleged abuse of my client took place. Hothersall died before charges could be brought and the police have said there is insufficient evidence to proceed against Cobham.
I represent a survivor of abuse at the hands of Father Ernest Sands, another priest who taught at Upholland. Sands was interviewed by the police in relation to abusing several former pupils at Upholland. In April 2016, whilst on bail, he committed suicide, avoiding a criminal trial in relation to the allegations made against him.
As time goes on it appears clear that it was not one rogue priest who had a reign of terror and abuse at Upholland. There is no doubt that the abuse at Upholland has irreparably impacted upon our clients and others who attended Upholland, when they should have instead been protected and trained for impending priesthood.
If you were sexually assaulted by Sands and are willing to assist our current client by providing a witness statement please contact Siobhán Crawford on her direct dial telephone number (020 7288 4886), mobile (07557 804710) or email.
You can also contact our other solicitors in the Child Abuse team on 020 3642 8793 or by filling out the contact form.