In Brief

Sunderland in the dock after Adam Johnson found guilty

Player was sacked after admitting charges involving a 15-year-old girl - but should club have acted sooner?

Former Sunderland and England footballer Adam Johnson faces a substantial prison sentence after being found guilty of sexual activity with a 15-year-old schoolgirl.

He was convicted of sexual touching by a majority verdict following a two week trial. Shortly before his case, Johnson pleaded guilty to two other lesser charges. The jury cleared him of a fourth charge. 

But in the wake of his conviction questions are being asked about Sunderland's handling of the case.

Johnson was suspended in March last year after his arrest, but was returned to the squad 16 days later, after denying the charges.

The club "allowed Adam Johnson to play on for months — earning about £3m — despite having details of child sex charges against him", says The Times.

He was "too valuable a playing asset" to be sidelined, suggests BBC Newcastle commentator Nick Barnes, and could have played a "significant role in helping the club steer themselves away from relegation" this season.

His contract with the Black Cats was terminated last month immediately after he admitted charges of grooming and kissing the girl. But some believe that the club should have acted sooner.

Margaret Byrne, the club's chief executive, had copies of police interviews with Johnson and the victim, as well as transcripts of the 834 text messages they swapped, The Guardian reports. 

During the trial "jurors heard Johnson's admission that, during a meeting on 4 May last year, he told Byrne he had kissed the girl and exchanged messages with her", reports the paper.

Sunderland 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. 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." 

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