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How messaging and social apps helped convict Adam Johnson

By Alex Murray
BBC News


Conversations from social media and messaging apps were key to the prosecution and conviction of former England and Sunderland footballer Adam Johnson, who has been jailed for six years for sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl.

image copyrightPA
image captionJohnson was the victim's favourite player and she had a picture taken with him outside Sunderland's stadium.

The court heard evidence gathered from a range of services as part of the prosecution case.

Hundreds of messages from social media, messaging and chat apps - respectively Facebook, Whatsapp and Snapchat - formed crucial parts of the evidence presented to the jury.

They demonstrated how Johnson groomed his victim before the offences, and how he continued to do so afterwards.

Adam Johnson sentencing: Live updates from court

These are some of the key messages from the case - we have re-created them based on what was heard in court.

'One enormous crush'

On New Year's Eve 2014, Johnson responded to a Facebook friend request from the victim, who had "one enormous crush on him" and who "idolised him", according to the prosecution.

image captionRe-creation of a Facebook friend request

He recognised her from her profile picture. He accepted the friend request and messaged her to ask for her mobile phone number.

The court heard that "she was sceptical that it really was Adam Johnson" so to prove his identity to the victim, he posted a "Happy New Year" message on his Twitter account.

He gave her his mobile phone number and encouraged her to use the messaging service Whatsapp.

The FA's Player Essentials says: "Do not give out your contact details on social networking sites."

image copyrightThe FA

Whatsapp has more than 1 billion users. It offers a service similar to text messaging but is free to use.

'Grooming in its purest form'

Prosecuting the case, Kate Blackwell QC told the court: "What's clear through the WhatsApp messages is he guided her in a classic case of grooming. Grooming in its purest form."

image captionRe-creation of Whatsapp messages between Johnson and victim

The court heard that within an hour, Johnson was aware that the victim was only 15 years old.

image captionRe-creation of Whatsapp messages between Johnson and victim

A total of 834 Whatsapp messages were presented as part of the evidence against Johnson.

image captionRe-creation of Whatsapp messages between Johnson and victim

By 4 January 2015, a plan had been made to meet, but the victim was unable to do so on 5 January.

Johnson met the victim on 17 January 2015, in a car park behind a Chinese takeaway in County Durham. Johnson gave her a signed Sunderland shirt, as he had promised in earlier messages. He also signed her own Sunderland shirt.

The encounter lasted 15 minutes.

'I thought I'd get a kiss'

After dropping the victim off, Johnson continued to message her, making sexual advances.

image captionRe-creation of Whatsapp messages between Johnson and victim

They arranged to meet again on 30 January with Johnson having pursued her with a series of messages in which he made clear that he was looking for a kiss "and more" as a thank you for the signed shirts.

'Am I only getting a kiss?'

They met in the same location as on 17 January. The victim used Snapchat to record part of their initial conversation, to send to her friends as proof she was in the car with him.

Johnson was convicted of a sexual offence that took place during this meeting. The jury cleared him of a second charge.

After dropping her off, Johnson messaged her to say: "It was class," adding: "Just wanted to get your jeans off, LOL."

The girl replied: "Next time."

image captionRe-creation of Whatsapp messages between Johnson and victim on 30 January 2015

Records recovered from Johnson's mobile phone show he searched for "legal age of consent" days after this encounter.

'Send one with the bikini off'

The trial heard that by the beginning of February they were communicating via the Snapchat app. Johnson created a second account in an attempt to hide his activity from his partner, but by 20 February had forgotten his new username.

The Snapchat platform allows users to send messages to each other which are deleted shortly after being viewed by the recipient. As a result, prosecutors admitted that the police retrieved "very few Snapchat messages between the two" in their investigation.

However, an image captured from the victim's handset - showing her in a white bikini - was given in evidence, with one from the defendant in which he encourages her to "send one with the bikini off".

image captionRe-creation of Snapchat messages between Johnson and victim in February 2015

'Desperation and panic'

A third meeting was arranged through Snapchat - the victim was at school when he messaged her - but cancelled at the last minute.

By this time, rumours had started to circulate among the victim's friendship group. She discovered a "Facebook groupchat" conversation among school friends who had found out.

As more people were added to the conversation, messages she had sent to someone describing the encounter with Johnson were posted.

The court heard that this involved her being called a "slag". She broke down "in desperation and panic" and told her father what had happened.

He told her mother who insisted they went to the police.

'I only gave her a couple of shirts'

Adam Johnson was arrested at home on 2 March 2015, on suspicion of sexual activity with a child.

He asked the police if this was in relation to the victim, claiming that he "only gave her a couple of shirts".

image copyrightPA
image captionThe former Sunderland footballer was arrested in March last year

The court heard that when interviewed Johnson "was proceeding on the basis that, like him", the victim "had deleted all the WhatsApp messages and so, rather like the Snapchat messages, they would not be retrieved by the police".

Related Topics

  • Child abuse

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