Sunderland deny claims over Adam Johnson guilty plea

Adam Johnson
Former England international Johnson has had his contract terminated by Sunderland

Sunderland say they would have sacked Adam Johnson immediately had they known he was to admit to child sex offences.

The footballer, 28, has been told he faces jail after being found guilty of sexual activity with a girl aged 15.

He had been playing for Sunderland until the start of his trial but was sacked after changing his pleas and admitting two charges on the first day.

"The club only became aware of the change of plea on the first day of the trial," it said in a statement.

"Had the club known that Mr Johnson intended to plead guilty to any of these charges, then his employment would have been terminated immediately."

Adam Johnson celebrates scoring against Liverpool in February in his last appearance for Sunderland
Adam Johnson celebrates scoring against Liverpool in February in his last appearance for Sunderland

Johnson had denied all four charges he faced up until the start of his trial. After admitting to two offences, he was found guilty on one count and cleared of the fourth.

However, the trial at Bradford Crown Court heard evidence that the club's chief executive, Margaret Byrne, met with Johnson and his barrister in May 2015 where he accepted he had kissed the girl and exchanged messages with her.

Johnson continued to play for the side despite those admissions, the court heard.

The player had been initially suspended by the club following his arrest in March 2015 but that was lifted two weeks later.

Following the end of the trial on Wednesday, Sunderland issued a statement which said Byrne was only "present during part of that meeting" in May 2015.

The Premier League club also denied they "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".

The statement added: "This is utterly without foundation and is refuted in the strongest possible terms."

But the club "still has questions to answer", according to Claire Phillipson from support group Wearside Women In Need, who said Sunderland's statement was "disingenuous".

She told BBC Radio 5 live: "They knew at the very least he had kissed this child and had contact with her, that was the evidence he gave. He may have been lying but they need to clarify that.

"If Sunderland categorically say 'he told us he did not have contact with this child' then fine - but they haven't said that."

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