Catholic priest jailed for sexual abuse at Lancashire seminary

|News, Sexual offences

A Catholic priest has been sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment for sexually abusing two teenage boys at St Joseph's College in Upholland in the 70s and 80s.

Michael Higginbottom, 76, was found guilty of five counts of serious sexual assault and seven counts of indecent assault following a re-trial at Burnley Crown Court.

The first victim came forward to the police in 2016 to report that he had suffered mental, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of Higginbottom between 1978 and 1979. The second victim saw a TV news report on the initial trial in 2017 and recognised the priest as he had also sexually abused him in the mid-1980s.

The boys did not attend the school at the same time and do not know each other, but they gave evidence of having been through similar experiences, which happened when they were around the same age, in Father Higginbottom's private quarters.

Wendy Chappell for the CPS said: "Michael Higginbottom carried out a series of violent sexual assaults, often using a belt to threaten or hit them if the boys were not compliant.

"He carried out the offences whilst in a position of trust within the school and the community as a priest and a teacher, which he breached in the most horrific way.

"Through the case Higginbottom described the allegations as 'total lies' and claimed he did not remember either of the boys. However, after we presented the overwhelming evidence against him before the court, the jury found him unanimously guilty of all the charges he faced.

"I would like to pay tribute to the two victims for their immense courage in coming forward and re-living their traumatic experiences by giving evidence against their abuser, with the first victim having to re-live it a second time at the re-trial. I hope that following today's sentence that they will be able to find some closure."

Notes to editors

  • Wendy Chappell is a Senior Crown Prosecutor for CPS North West
  • Michael Higginbottom was found guilty of four counts of buggery and seven counts of indecent assault on a male person in relation to the first victim and one count of buggery in relation to the second victim
  • He had originally been convicted in 2017 of the offences in relation to the first victim but faced a re-trial after the convictions were quashed on appeal. The re-trial included an additional charge in relation to the second victim.

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