A Catholic priest has been jailed for 17 years for repeatedly sexually abusing a teenage boy when he worked as a teacher in the 1970s. Father Michael Higginbottom, 74, was working at St Joseph’s College, a boarding school in Upholland, Lancashire, when the sexual abuse took place.
Liverpool Crown Court heard that his victim attended the seminary, for boys who wanted to become priests, for six months when he was aged between 13 and 14. In a victim statement read to the court, he said: “My sexual abuse happened so often I became numb to what was happening to me. “I cried so often I believe I could have drowned in my own tears.”
The victim, now in his 50s, said he used to pray that he would die to escape the abuse.
He said: “There are worse things than death – living with an evil man and being left alone at Upholland.”
The trial heard he would be struck with a strap if he did not attend Higginbottom’s living quarters, where much of the abuse happened, at appointed times.
The first incident happened about a week after the victim arrived at the school.
He said he was invited into Higginbottom’s living quarters and the priest locked the door and ordered him to undress before sexually assaulting him.
When he returned home from the school he became rebellious and his schoolwork suffered, he said.
He added: “Upholland, and him, have stolen so much of my being. I had to salvage something out of this empty shell.”
The court heard the victim also made allegations against two other priests at the school, but both had since died. Adam Birkby, defending, said that since the offences, Higginbottom had led a “positive” life as a parish priest.
He said he suffered a number of health problems including type-2 diabetes and a heart condition.
Sentencing, Judge Andrew Menary QC said: “For a period of six months in the late 1970s you made a young boy’s life a living hell.
“What you did to him there effectively destroyed the remainder of his childhood and did a good job of destroying any faith he ever had.” Higginbottom, of West Farm Road, Newcastle, had denied four counts of buggery and four counts of indecent assault but was found guilty after a trial.
The court heard that during his time as a physics teacher at the school, which has since closed, he would give electric shocks to pupils as a punishment. Judge Menary said: “You employed methods which today, if not then, would be recognised for what they were – cruel and sadistic bullying.”
The trial jury was told that allegations had been made against Higginbottom by another former pupil in 2007 and the Catholic Church had settled the claim out of court for £35,000. Police had investigated the claims and, although Higginbottom was charged, no evidence against him was offered in court and not guilty verdicts were entered.
Higginbottom was told he would be subject to the notification requirement of the Sexual Offences Act for the rest of his life.