Adam Johnson: a wretched matter for the victim, SAFC’s dignified response

sol gates

Adam Johnson, as most readers will know, faces a probable jail sentence measured in years not months after being convicted of one of the outstanding charges against him at Bradford Crown Court concerning sexual activity with a girl then aged 15.

The judge talked of having formed a preliminary view that he should receive five years’ imprisonment based on a range of four to 10.

That is his role. Ours is a limited one: to sympathise with the girl whose love of the club and admiration of Johnson have been grossly abused. There need be no sympathy for the player, whose top-level career is probably now over, in the UK at least; he has brought this on his own head and ought, quite simply, to have known and acted better. We are bitterly disappointed that a man of such talent has acted so stupidly and criminally, but no one is or should be above the law.

Salut! Sunderland
has seen no reason to cover this rotten affair, except in passing when it seemed necessary, although a contributor is toying with an article about a serious aspect that arises from it.

Readers are now free to comment, provided they respect the rules of decency and legality, since there are no further issues for a lay jury to decide and judges, by custom and practice, are deemed incapable of being influenced by external comment.

Here, however, is what Sunderland AFC had to say after the verdicts were reached:

“To respect the legal process, Sunderland AFC was unable to comment on this case until after the jury had delivered its verdict. It has now done so and we thank our supporters for their patience and understanding. We now wish to clarify certain matters which arose during the trial.

“Mr Johnson was suspended by the club immediately following his arrest on March 2, 2015. At that time, the club was advised by police of the broad nature of the allegations against Mr Johnson, who was being advised at all times by his own legal team. The club felt that the decision to suspend was appropriate at that time, even though he had not then been charged with any offence.

Two weeks later, his suspension was lifted after a meeting between the club and the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), and after the club took independent legal advice. The club reached this decision only after carrying out a safeguarding assessment and liaising with relevant agencies.

“On 23 April 2015, Mr Johnson was charged with four offences. The club was informed that it was Mr Johnson’s intention to defend all the charges, a stance he maintained right up until the first day of trial. The club continued to review the safeguarding procedures it had put in place throughout this time.

“On 4 May 2015, an introductory meeting took place between Mr Johnson, his father and Orlando Pownall QC. Mr Pownall had not previously met Mr Johnson. The club’s CEO was present during part of that meeting. During the time that she was present there was no suggestion whatsoever that Mr Johnson would be changing his plea. Some documents were received relating to the case, which were immediately sent to Mr Pownall for his attention.

“However, the club was not in a position to make any judgment on the outcome of the case nor on Mr Johnson’s decision to defend all the allegations. Following that meeting, Mr Johnson again confirmed to the club, presumably on advice from his own legal team, that his intention was to defend the charges in their entirety and he was confident of success once all evidence had been considered. He subsequently entered not guilty pleas to all charges on 6 June 2015.

“The club did not give evidence either for the prosecution or the defence in this case.

“It was therefore not present in court when it is understood that a suggestion was made that the club knew all along that Mr Johnson was intending to change his plea just before trial to enable him to continue to play football for the club and that the club may also have been involved in tactical discussions about the plea. This is utterly without foundation and is refuted in the strongest possible terms. The club never placed any pressure or demands on Mr Johnson to play football during this process.

“Decisions in relation to the pleas and the conduct of the trial have been left entirely to Mr Johnson and his highly experienced and skilled legal team. Mr Johnson has admitted in evidence that he changed his plea “on legal advice”.

“The club only became aware of the change of plea, in relation to two of the four counts on the indictment, on the first day of the trial, after hearing it reported through the media.

The club was not advised in advance that Mr Johnson would plead guilty to any offence. Had the club known that Mr Johnson intended to plead guilty to any of these charges, then his employment would have been terminated immediately.

“Indeed, upon learning of the guilty plea on 11 February 2016, the club acted quickly and decisively in terminating Adam Johnson’s contract without notice.

“This has been an extremely difficult time for all involved. The victim and her family have endured an unimaginable ordeal in the last 12 months and we trust that they will now be allowed to move on with their lives without further intrusion or public scrutiny.

Following the announcement of today’s verdict and the release of this detailed statement, the club intends to make no further comment.”

M Salut, drawn by Matt, colouring by Jake
M Salut, drawn by Matt, colouring by Jake

29 thoughts on “Adam Johnson: a wretched matter for the victim, SAFC’s dignified response”

    • My original point – in response to Paul’s first comment at the top of this thread, was not based on how much the club did or didn’t know a year ago, but more to do with the lack of foresight into how the media and the wider community would react to the way the club has handled things and its subsequent statement.

      The whole Di Canio appointment was handled badly before and afterwards. It was obvious to anyone in tune with the area that there would be opposition to it. The club received adverse publicity in the wake of this with Milliband resigning, the NUM asking for their banner back etc.

      With that experience behind them the board should have realised a year ago that any perceived mishandling of the situation would rebound on them. They could have done things differently without prejudicing the outcome of the trial.

      Add to that the Vergini, Coates, Alvarez, Roberge etc. situations and that all points to a regime that is not in tune with the region and has no expertise in football. The on-off Kone deal again drew criticism and that I think in part was down to the lack of flexibility the club had during contract talks because of the fair play rules. I’d like to bet that it was only after some of the wages of Coates, Graham, Fletcher etc. had been released that Allardyce was told he could have Kone.

      My point about Niall Quinn is valid I believe. He knows football, he knows the club and what it means to the region. In my view Short made a big error in marginalising and then letting him leave the club but then Ellis Short’s a businessman who employs business people, not a football person who employs people who understand the game.

      • The reason why Keane left was because of Short’s overbearing presence. My thoughts have always been that Keane could have achieved a lot more at the club, apart from storming to promotion from the lowest ebb possible and retaining their PL place with a pretty mediocre team. No mean achievements! Quinn and Keane are real football people and that has been missing since. Allardyce is improving things, that has to be said.

  1. The truth, Adam Johnson lied to the police. Margaret Byrne only had what the Durham Constabulary said on the BBC Website as a Broad guidance as to his charges.
    Everyone at SAFC was told by his legal team that he was pleading innocent. Then, as the prosecution presented evidence that no one else knew of, Johnson’s legal team said “You must plead guilty to X & Y”. SAFC were not allowed to see the evidence that the sudden plea change was given.

    They then terminated his employment = End of. SAFC are in no breach. Only Adam Johnson, and I have zero sympathy with him, to take a young girl who idolised him, and change her into a a young girl who hates his guts. Well. She is one of us, a supporter. And I embrace her, I kiss her on the brow, in a fatherly manner, and say, come on lass. You are welcome in our crowd.

  2. It is a difficult one, still. The Echo questions are valid and merit a candid response from the club. I instinctively take the innocent-until-proved-guilty line and that it is prejudicial to the accused if h(s)he is seen to be penalised at work before guilt is established. But if, privately, AJ admitted at least partial guilt, and it was clear this would lead to conviction or Guilty plea, then the club could have imposed/continued/reimposed suspension with a simple statement saying this would be maintained “pending the outcome of legal proceedings which we in no way seek to prejudge”.
    If the facts are precisely as set out in the SAFC statement, then the club acted properly. If any material fact has been omitted, or falsehood or misleading reference included, then the official responsible should be shown the door.

    • Unfortunately I would say this may reach Ellis Short.The way he runs this club he cannot have failed to know everything that was done here.It would be a travesty to make a scapegoat on this,which would make the case even worse.

      The board must stand or fall together on this,they took a course of action and they all stood behind it.Still are by the looks.

  3. And Johnson was going to plead not guilty. It then is a matter for a court of law and for SAFC to pre-judge the outcome would be totally wrong.I dislike the way the club is being criticised for what seems to me to be their correct process in the sorry affair.

    • If Johnson owned up to his crimes in May 2015
      to Margaret Byrne and in fact confirmed the
      police’s version of events, then the club is in a
      a difficult position. It needs to come clean on this point or
      deny Johnson’s allegations. I understand the legal niceties
      but the club has a moral responsibility its community, including the victim and her family.

      • ” This is utterly without foundation and is refuted in the strongest possible terms.”

        Seems pretty clear to me.

      • Actually on reading that Guardian article I’ve changed my mind.SAFC’s version looks shakey now.They will have to answer these questions or this will never settle down.

        My question would be that even had Margaret Byrne not been present at such a critical point in the meeting,why did she not later realise this had been raised?Very incriminating texts and a confession in initial police interviews were raiswd at the meeting(i.e admitting kissing a 15 year old supporter of our club).I do find it very hard to believe the club now, even if true it shows how slender a grip she has on issues related to the club.

      • I think ” judgement ” is the key word vince.

        Sunderland pride themselves on being a community oriented club, and an issue as delicate, and potentially damaging as this, should have merited detailed analysis and decision making.

        No doubt more detail will come to light in the coming days, but I have a distinct impression that our club will not emerge from this with much credit.

      • My initial reaction was also favourable towards
        the club, until I read yesterday’s Guardian. The questions need to be answered.

  4. The meeting in May 2015 between Byrne, Johnson and his QC is cause for concern. According to Johnson and his legal
    team he revealed all of the details of his crimes and the hundreds of Whatsapp messages were handed over to Byrne. This is the issue the club has to clarify and address because it appears they knew more than they were letting on. I understand that they could not have revealed any of these details at the time but they could have suspended Johnson. I just cannot imagine that Byrne did not consult Short or the directors. Did they inform the PFA? One of many unanswered questions.

    • Well. He has lied throughout the whole case. Why do you assume, a truth suddenly appears? I mean, he is associated, as both a Newcastle and a Sunderland supporter. What if, he just decided to trash Sunderland AFC? I would not put it beyond him considering the things he has done already.

  5. If we are to believe the club statement, they could have done no more. They are not judge and jury, took legal advice asap and also involved the PFA regarding what they should do, something the media have failed to mention from what I’ve seen and heard today.

  6. The matter’s straightforward, isn’t it? The club needed to wait until a verdict or plea is offered. Without that aren’t they at risk of being in breach of a judicial process? Wouldn’t the jury be unduly influenced in their decision making if the club had sacked Johnson before either a guilty verdict or plea?
    He told the club that he would be pleading not guilty, the moment that changed, they sacked him; I don’t think the club had any choice but to continue to employ him as a professional footballer – ie. one who plays matches – as he was, as the law sets out, innocent until proven guilty. I don’t think it’s appropriate for the club to jump to a conclusion on the basis of what police shared – that’s for the jury to decide.
    There’s been a key theme throughout this sorry set of circumstances; Johnson’s selfishness – that’s had a terrible impact on everyone concerned.

  7. It looks like the heat is being turned up on the club now . Big Sam forced to answer questions about the affair ,when in all honestly he will have been listening to the clubs lawyers in the respect of playing Johnson . Allardyce wasn’t even at the club when Johnsons suspension was lifted ,never mind the crimes taking place . All of this just serves to blacken the clubs name again in the media ,to follow the appointment of PDC and the deluded ramblings of a bitter ex manager . Even false accusations of rascism against the fans by an ex England player were given huge publicity at the time , with no aplology later . This isn’t a pity me contrbutiion , there’s a genuine victim in this and she and Johnsons family’s both will be suffering terribly at this time , my sympathys to all of them . The club must though , pull its socks up so things within its control do not ruin the clubs reputation any further. Margaret Burns judgement must be called into question again .

  8. (second attempt – not sure if fault my end or yours but original comment submitted but “lost” – in any event I have abbreviated it so that may be a blessing!)

    I think it is wrong to criticize the club in this matter. That only serves to deflect attention away from where the blame – and guilt – in this matter lie. Johnson is guilty of a dreadful crime and will be punished by the law.
    The club, and indeed this website, have acted properly all along based on what they knew.
    To try to link this into a moan about the way the club is run is quite wrong, however upset any of us feels about our current plight.
    SAFC is a splendid organisation that does enormous good for the local community and its fans.

    • Can’t agree. If, as is claimed members of the board knew he had indulged in inappropriate behaviour with a minor, even if they thought it was only kissing, demonstrates poor judgement not to take action at the time. It’s another example of poor judgement and I have to question if they are fit to hold positions of responsibility.

      • Seems to me the club makes very bad decisions re handling publicity.The controversy over PdC’s appointment being the last bungled case.The board seems to have a mushroom attitude to dealing with anything out of the ordinary.Instead of taking a wider view of how things will look they take the “keep your head down and hope it goes away”policy.There is a lack of clear headed thinking and I have to add a lack of any sign of an ethical stance at our club.

        Don’t get me wrong,I am not naive, football sold its soul years ago to big money.But this latest epsiode is looking like things have just crossed a watershed for me.

      • Where I agree with wrinkly Pete is that only one person is to blame for the Adam Johnson situation. Where he and I disagree is on how well the club has been run over the past few seasons. It is not wrong to criticise the club when they have mishandled all kinds of things. Di Canio, poor signings on inflated contracts or with ludicrous clauses inserted, are the fault of the executives within the club, headed by Margaret Byrne, overseen by Ellis Short.

        Yes the club does a lot of good for the community, I won’t deny that, but in recent times the executive members have demonstrated poor judgement in many areas. I’m not the only one thinking that and more and more people whose scribblings are more widely seen than mine are making the same points.

  9. Good article by Louise Taylor in today’s Guardian with some pertinent questions for, in the first place, the chief executive.

  10. It is as I expected,only minor criticism of the club is they took a tad too long to sack him after he pleaded guilty.IMHO he would have been an ex player 5 minutes after changing his plea to gulity.That it took nearly 2 days to think this over is amazing.Sometimes things are just right and never mind withthe usual consulting of the lawyers.This was a case of doing the right thing.

    But the club were not at fault otherwise.

    • I think you’ll find over the coming days that this becomes somewhat more than a minor criticism Vince.

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