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8 June 2019, 06:59 | Updated: 8 June 2019, 07:06
Southampton Football Club have offered an "unreserved apology" to the victims and survivors of sexual abuse by former employee Bob Higgins ahead of the ex-coach's sentencing next week.
Predatory paedophile Higgins was found guilty of 45 charges of indecent assault against 23 teenage boys following a retrial at Bournemouth Crown Court in May.
The club was advised by police not to make any public statement whilst the case was in court to ensure a fair trial.
In a statement, the club said: "Southampton Football Club would like to offer an unreserved apology to all victims and survivors of abuse by our former employee, Bob Higgins.
"We recognise that some of the boys under our care suffered exposure to abuse when they should have received protection from any form of harm.
"For this the club is deeply sorry."
The 66-year-old ran the youth training programmes at Southampton and Peterborough Football Clubs and also spent a period as the Maltese national youth coach.
The trial heard that Higgins abused his "position of power" over the future careers of the young players in order to take advantage of them for his own sexual needs.
He was accused of groping them during post-exercise soapy massages as well as at his home and in his car.
Southampton FC, who said they were notified of the allegations against the defendant in 2016, accepted that the absence of an apology from the club may have caused upset amongst the victims.
"We recognise this lack of contact may have caused some anger and further distrust among the victims and survivors, but this approach has been absolutely necessary to ensure a fair trial," the statement said.
"Following the completion of the current criminal trials, the club is continuing to work with the police.
"We can confirm that we will start consulting with victims and survivors individually once the police have confirmed that it is acceptable for us to do so."
Following the completion of the criminal trial, the Saints promised to extend their own investigation with the support of children's charity Barnardo's.
The statement continued: "It is important for the club to rebuild relationships with those who suffered abuse while under our care in the past.
"We realise that it will take a significant amount of time and consultation with the victims and survivors to start to rebuild these relationships.
"However, we hope that over time we will be able to provide the support, understanding and tangible action to help each of them."
Higgins was also convicted of a further count of indecent assault at the original trial held last year.
The defendant, of Southampton, was remanded in custody following his trial to be sentenced at Winchester Crown Court on Tuesday.
He was cleared of five counts of indecent assault and the jury was unable to reach a verdict on a final charge.