Former England footballer Adam Johnson has been found guilty of one count of sexual activity with a child in a case his teenage victim said had "turned my life upside down".
Jurors at Bradford Crown Court had been asked to decide whether the schoolgirl performed a sex act on the former Sunderland footballer when they met in his car in January last year and if he put his hand down her trousers.
Johnson, 28, was earlier acquitted on a second charge relating to the 15-year-old's claim she performed oral sex on him and has been bailed to re-appear in court for sentencing in three weeks time.
The judge said his preliminary view was that the case falls into the category of a five-year prison sentence with a range of four to 10 years.
He said: "The defendant must understand there is a very high probability of a significant custodial sentence."
In a statement read by police outside court, Johnson's victim said she felt “used and let down” by the footballer, describing the last 12 months as the “hardest year of my life”.
She added: “I have had to face so much abuse after he claimed his innocence and I was made out to be a liar.
“What happened in his car has turned my life upside down, I have lost all of my confidence, and my schoolwork has suffered.”
Johnson had earlier admitted grooming the girl and kissing her in the front seats of his Range Rover Sport after the pair had initially met so the former Sunderland player could sign her football jersey.
The girl was a huge fan of Johnson, the court had been told, and had befriended him on Facebook at the end of 2014.
After meeting the first time, the court heard Johnson had texted the teenager asking if he was due a "thank you kiss". The pair then met a second time.
Johnson, who has 12 caps for England, denied his interactions with the girl went any further than kissing.
At that time of the offending Johnson lived with his now ex-girlfriend, Stacy Flouders, who was pregnant with their daughter. Flouders took to the stand in defence of Johnson and told the court they would "remain friends".
Statement from Johnson's victim
From the very beginning of all of this I always doubted that people would believe me. I was talking to Adam Johnson, it was surreal for me. He was my favourite player for Sunderland, a club I was a massive supporter of. As a Sunderland fan I absolutely idolised Adam. He was my hero. I attended the home games whenever I could. It was something I looked forward to.
When Adam messaged me I was in shock and disbelief. I didn't even believe it was Adam at first. He had to prove to me that it was him because it was surreal.
He offered me a match-worn signed shirt so I was obviously over the moon.
He asked me straight away how old I was and I said '15' because I didn't see it as a problem as I was only getting a signed shift. In fact., I told him that I had only just turned 15.
I was overwhelmed by all of this. This was my favourite player and he was texting me.
I felt used and let down by him.
It's been the hardest year of my life and I've had to face so much abuse after he claimed his innocence. I was made out to be a liar, if anything, I held things back because I didn't want all of this to come out.
What happened in his car has turned my life upside down. I have lost all of my confidence. My school work has suffered.
There are people out there who have made assumptions about me and that alone has been hard to deal with. I have been unable to defend myself publicly.
The gossip on social media and hearing all of the horrible names that people have been calling me has been devastating to me, my friends and my family. People were lying about me and what I had said.
Statement from Sunderland AFCSuggest a correction
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.