IT WAS one of the biggest and most complex investigations undertaken by Hampshire police in recent years.

Detectives travelled across the UK to secure the evidence needed to bring Bob Higgins to justice - 40 years after he had abused his position of trust to satisfy his sexual cravings.

Officers involved in the investigation faced the task of persuading victims to divulge intimate details of their past.

Many had remained silent for decades, opening up for the first time when police sat down to record details they had kept hidden from the world.

An NSPCC helpline set up in the wake of revelations made on the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire show resulted in almost 90 referrals being made to Hampshire Constabulary.

During the ensuing investigation detectives took 176 witness statements and videoed 56 interviews which produced a total of 48 hours of footage.

The inquiry also produced 225 exhibits and 838 documents.

When the case went to court Higgins faced a total of 50 charges resulting from allegations made by 24 victims.

Detective Chief Inspector Dave Brown outlined the scale of the task faced by detectives whose job was to gain the trust and confidence of the abused and secure the evidence needed to gain convictions.

In many cases victims found themselves disclosing facts they had never divulged before - even to their closest friends and relatives.

Occasionally it meant a Hampshire detective travelling to another part of the UK instead of handing the job to a colleague who was not fully familiar with the case.

DCI Brown said: "We needed to engage with the victims and give them the trust and confidence that they we could deal with their complaint.

"A lot of hours went into sourcing the evidence.

"Rather than ask a colleague in another force I wanted Hampshire Constabulary to secure the evidence. I wanted officers who knew and understood the complexity of the case to take the statement."

Higgins's victims kept quiet at the time of the offences, possibly out of a mixture of fear and embarrassment.

DCI Brown said: "Higgins was an incredibly capable and well-respected football coach who controlled their future.

"They were desperate to become professional footballers and didn't want to risk not fulfilling their dreams. Higgins was able to exploit their vulnerability to satisfy his sexual preferences.

"Some of his victims have openly admitted that they'd have done anything to please him.

"During the past few months there has been a great outpouring of emotion. Many had harboured this abuse for a long period of time - in some cases 40 years."

As the investigation unfolded a pattern began to emerge, with each new allegation appearing to confirm what others had already said.

DCI Brown said: "We heard about the same controlling behaviour, the same music being played in the environment and the same details about how the soapy massages were administered.

"So many people had the strength to come forward and give an account of what had happened to them."

The football abuse scandal finally came to light in November 2016.

Victoria Derbyshire interviewed Chris Unsworth, Steve Walters and Andy Woodward, who had all been sexually abused by former Manchester City and Crewe Alexandra coach Barry Bennell.

Claire Booth, of the Crown Prosecution Service said: "Woodward spoke our and as a result the NSPCC set up a helpline, which resulted in victim after victim coming forward.

"Bob Higgins's name came up time and again. He quickly became a person of interest and after that the investigation proceeded fairly swiftly.

"One of the challenges we faced was the sheer number of victims and the need to assess each individual case.

"We had an overwhelming amount of evidence and had to pick the best evidence that was useable for the jury.

"Higgins was interviewed for 15 hours and made no comment at all. He just seemed a bit cross.

"He was a hugely manipulative individual. He has been referred to as a career-maker - the boys were in awe of him and some of them regarded as a father figure.

"He had a very successful track record. They felt their career was in his hands. He could build them up and he could break them down. If they didn't do what they wanted he would freeze them out.

"In some cases this has been a very traumatic experience for the victims. They have lived with this for years and in some cases decades.

"The police team have been fantastic and provided the victims with a bespoke service."