Sunderland bosses pressed over knowledge of Adam Johnson's crimes


Pressure is mounting on the Sunderland AFC hierarchy to explain when they became aware of the full extent of Adam Johnson's crimes.

The 28-year-old former England footballer has been told he will receive a "substantial prison sentence" after he was found guilty of sexual activity with a besotted 15-year-old fan.

He had already admitted a less serious charge of sexual activity with the teenager and also grooming her over social media.

Manager Sam Allardyce said he had been told Johnson would be pleading not guilty to all charges and so on that basis had continued to let him train and be selected.

He said it came as a "massive shock" when the winger instead admitted two of them just before the trial began.

An investigation has now been called for as to why he was allowed to keep playing, despite the club allegedly being given all 834 WhatsApp messages exchanged between the footballer and the teenage girl back in May.

Clare Phillipson, director of charity Wearside Women in Need, said allowing Johnson to play sent out an "absolutely dreadful" message as it led people to think he was probably innocent.

"The core issue is the role of social media both in terms of how he was able to groom her and how it plays out on public websites and how that plays into the actions of Sunderland football club," she said.

"So when he was first arrested and released on police bail, there were literally thousands of comments on websites about that and the vast majority were vilifying his victim, which would have added to her trauma.

"The main question hanging over all of this for me is, I don't think the statement from Sunderland football club answers all of the questions that we need answering.

"What we need to know is, not at what point did they know he was going to plead guilty, but at what point did they know that he had met with her, exchanged messages and been alone with her in a car?"

During the trial the jury was told that, by May 4, chief executive Margaret Byrne met Johnson and his barrister and she had all the messages exchanged and transcripts from police interviews.

Ms Phillipson said: "If that's true, then at that point they definitely should have suspended him because, in allowing him to continue to play, tens of thousands of fans and lots of other people thought 'Oh well, the club is still letting him play - the case against him can't be very good, he probably is innocent'.

"And once again that leaves the victim feeling vilified and not believed and feeling that she was at fault and it was her who was to blame.

"It was an absolutely dreadful message that will not encourage children to come forward, which is surely what we want.

"If we want to stamp out the behaviour of predatory paedophiles then we need to send a very clear message to victims that if you do come forward you won't be vilified and you'll be listened to with a fair process for both sides."

Allardyce also expressed his sympathies for the victim and her family and said he hoped they would now find peace.

Speaking at his weekly pre-match press conference, he said: "To hear just before the trial started that he had pleaded guilty was a massive shock to everybody at the football club and the football club took swift and direct action to dismiss him immediately.

"So everybody in our dressing room and certainly me, on what little we knew, was shocked from that.

"It's been very difficult to try and judge what's actually been going on, because you want to know all the facts so you try and keep your cool until the judgement has been made.

"Now the judgement has been made, the decision has been made, we all feel extremely let down by what has happened and by what Adam has done and certainly feel a lot of sympathy for the victim and the family.

"Hopefully that has now given them some peace and they can get on with their lives and we can get on with our football. Whatever the punishment is he has to accept that and we can all move on."