Victims' commissioner demands review of 'double jeopardy' law

Bob Higgins was jailed for 24 years

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The victims' commissioner has written to the government demanding that a law, which protected a paedophile from further criminal charges, is reviewed.

Dame Vera Baird's letter to justice secretary David Gauke expresses "serious concern" that current double jeopardy legislation means six alleged victims of football coach Bob Higgins "have been unable to obtain justice and closure".

As young men in 1991, they accused the Southampton FC and Peterborough FC coach of sexually abusing them but their cases were dismissed due to "insufficient evidence", resulting in Higgins being acquitted.

When a new case against him began in 2016, the six were told they could not be included as the law prevented Higgins facing the same charges again unless the alleged offence is deemed "serious".

Martin, which is not his real name, told talkRADIO the news was heartbreaking: "To say I was angry would be an understatement. All I've ever done is be honest and yet the law has let me down."

Earlier this month Higgins was jailed for 24 years for a campaign of sexual abuse against young players between 1971 to 1996.

"I'm never going to be able to stand in front of this man and get justice," Martin added. "That's what I need closure on."

He and others were permitted to give evidence in the trial but only as "bad character witnesses".

The double jeopardy law was altered in 2003 to allow serious cases such as rape to be brought against defendants again on the basis of new and compelling evidence.

The letter is Ms Baird's first act as the new victims' commissioner, a role previously held by Baroness Newlove.

Dame Vera Baird told talkRADIO: "Our understanding of the damage that is caused by sexually abuse has moved on significantly. That category of 'seriousness' therefore needs a fresh look."

Leading child abuse lawyer Dino Nocivelli agrees: "If Higgins had come out and written a book saying 'Yes, I did do it to those six', there's no possible repercussions.

"That cannot be fair and as a society we should not allow the law to prevent justice being done."

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