Adam Johnson's victim will want to know why the footballer was allowed "back on to the pitch", the detective who led the investigation into his child sex offending has said.
Pressure was mounting on the Sunderland AFC hierarchy to explain when they became aware of the full extent of Johnson's crimes.
The 28-year-old former England footballer was told on Wednesday he will receive a "substantial prison sentence" after he was found guilty of sexual activity with a besotted 15-year-old fan.
Sunderland sacked him after he pleaded guilty at the start of his trial at Bradford Crown Court to grooming and kissing the teenager after they met so he could sign a match jersey for her.
Manager Sam Allardyce told his weekly press conference that Johnson's plea had come as a "massive shock" to the club as bosses thought he would deny all charges.
In a statement after the trial, the club insisted they would have sacked him immediately had they known he was going to admit any of the charges.
But Detective Inspector Aelfwynn Sampson, of Durham Police, told BBC News that after the player was arrested a year ago, she told club bosses that sexual activity had taken place and that Johnson had messaged the girl.
Sunderland initially suspended the player for a fortnight, then allowed him back into the squad as the club fought relegation last year. The club insisted this was because Johnson said he was pleading not guilty.
The detective told the broadcaster: "At the centre of this we have a 15-year-old girl who was an avid Sunderland fan and a massive fan of Adam Johnson, she describes him as her idol, she'll want to know why he was allowed back on the pitch."
There have been calls for the bosses to answer why he was allowed to carry on playing and picking up £60,000 a week, despite the club allegedly being given all 834 WhatsApp messages exchanged between the footballer and the teenage girl back in May.
Clare Phillipson, director of charity Wearside Women in Need, said allowing Johnson to play sent out an "absolutely dreadful" message as it led people to think he was probably innocent.
During the trial the jury was told that, by May 4, chief executive Margaret Byrne had met Johnson and his barrister and that she had all the messages exchanged and transcripts from police interviews.
Phillipson said: "If that's true, then at that point they definitely should have suspended him because, in allowing him to continue to play, tens of thousands of fans and lots of other people thought 'Oh well, the club is still letting him play - the case against him can't be very good, he probably is innocent'."
Julie Elliott, Labour MP for Sunderland Central, said "there are questions to be answered".
The NSPCC said: "If Sunderland AFC had known that Johnson had kissed the girl, prior to his guilty plea, then he should have been suspended pending the police investigation.
"He was a role model and it would have sent out a strong message that this kind of behaviour must not be tolerated at any level."
At his press conference, Allardyce said: "I am hugely disappointed on Adam Johnson and what has happened, but my sympathies don't lie with him, they lie with the victim and the family."
The Professional Footballers' Association said Johnson's actions were "extremely disappointing" and showed the organisation still had work to do in educating players.
The Football Association also criticised the behaviour of the former England player, saying: "Our thoughts are with the victim and her family as they look to rebuild their lives after this traumatic ordeal."
Statement from Sunderland AFC
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.
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.
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