Sunderland bosses under pressure over failure to suspend Adam Johnson


Pressure is mounting on Sunderland AFC bosses 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.

Clare Phillipson, director of charity Wearside Women in Need, said allowing Johnson to continue playing 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?"

A statement from the club said they had not been advised in advance that Johnson would plead guilty to any offence.

But during the trial the jury was told that, by May 4, when chief executive Margaret Byrne met Johnson and his barrister Orlando Pownall QC, the club had all 834 WhatsApp messages exchanged between the footballer and the teenage girl and transcripts of police interviews with Johnson and the girl.

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 is 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."

She also called on the club to allow the local child safeguarding board to come in and investigate what has happened.

"I think an appropriate response would be to let the local safeguarding board, who are responsible for child protection in the area, to go in and investigate the sequence of events and publish a report about what happened and whether any lessons can be learned from that and be disseminated more widely across other football clubs," she said.