A Catholic priest has appeared in court on 15 March 2016 charged with allegations that he sexually abused young boys in the 1970s, during which time he worked at St Joseph’s College, near Wigan.
Father Michael Higginbottom, now 73 years old, appeared in Ormskirk Magistrates’ Court to face the allegations, which included 4 charges of indecent assault against 2 boys aged under 14, and 2 counts of buggery against a boy who was aged 14 at the time. Higginbottom was not asked to enter a plea at this time and was released on conditional bail, with the case being sent to Liverpool Crown Court, where it is due to be heard on 12 April 2016. The hearing comes after Higginbottom was arrested and charged in February following an investigation by Lancashire Police.
Higginbottom had previously been suspended from his post at St Augustine’s Church in Darlington in 2004, with parishioners being given no information at the time as to why he had left. Independent investigations since this time however, indicate that his suspension came after a former pupil of St Joseph’s made a sexual abuse complaint against him. It is also understood that the police interviewed him at this time but that no charges were made.
The Church is believed to have agreed to an out of court settlement of £35,000 for the individual who made the complaints in 2004, although they did not admit liability.
St Joseph’s College, was a junior and senior seminary for boys who were aged between 12 and 16 and considering a vocation within the Catholic Church. The college closed down in the 1990s.