Adam Johnson: Durham Police say officers told Sunderland of sex act

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Media captionDet Insp Aelfwynn Sampson says she told Sunderland FC's chief executive about Adam Johnson's alleged sex act with a child on 2 March 2015

The chief executive of Sunderland Football Club was told about Adam Johnson's sexual activity with a 15-year-old fan more than a year ago, police have said.

Durham Police said Margaret Byrne was told on 2 March 2015, the day of Johnson's arrest, that he had allegedly messaged and kissed the schoolgirl.

Sunderland initially suspended him before reinstating him two weeks later.

He was convicted on Wednesday of sexual activity with the girl.

His victim has asked why he was allowed to keep on playing.

Det Insp Aelfwynn Sampson from Durham Police, the lead investigator of the case, said she met Sunderland chief executive Margaret Byrne on 2 March 2015.

She told BBC News: "They were given detail that he had met the girl and sexual activity had taken place."

She said the club was also told he had exchanged messages with the girl.

She added: "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."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Durham Police said Sunderland chief executive Margaret Byrne was told about Adam Johnson's sexual activity with a 15-year-old fan

Det Insp Sampson had told Adam Johnson's trial she had met Ms Byrne to outline the case.

The Sunderland Echo reported the officer said particulars of the offences were not discussed as Johnson had not been interviewed.

Sunderland are yet to respond to the specific claim about the meeting with Durham Police.

Johnson was suspended for two weeks but then allowed to play again, with the club saying they understood he planned to deny all the charges against him.

The club sacked him on the first day of his trial after he admitted grooming and kissing the girl.

During his trial Johnson said Sunderland knew he had kissed the girl, but in a statement released after the verdicts the club "strongly refuted" any claim that they knew he planned to admit any of the charges.

'Massive shock'

The statement said: "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."

In a press conference earlier, Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce said Johnson played on the basis that he planned to plead not guilty to all the charges.

He said it was a "massive shock" and the club took "swift and direct action to dismiss him immediately" after Johnson admitted two charges.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Adam Johnson was sacked by Sunderland after his guilty plea to two charges

Children's charities, MPs and campaigners are calling on the club to explain what exactly they knew and when.

Sunderland Central Labour MP Julie Elliott said the club had questions to answer.

She said: "Clearly, having listened to the victim's statement, our focus should be on supporting her to rebuild her life after an horrific year.

"What is also clear however is that there are questions to be answered. I am concerned about what safeguards were put in place, in light of what has come out of the trial.

"These questions should be put to the club."

Safeguarding measures

The BBC sent Sunderland a list of questions including what exactly Ms Byrne knew about Johnson, what safeguarding measures the club put in place and how the decision about his suspension was made.

The club said they were making no further comment at this stage.

The FA said its safeguarding team met with Sunderland officials in April 2015 to discuss Johnson.

A spokesman said: "Sunderland confirmed Adam Johnson did not have any roles with the club involving a position of trust with children and was not involved in their community schemes."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Sunderland lost 1-0 to Manchester City at the Stadium of Light on 2 February

Pictures taken at the Stadium of Light ahead of Sunderland's league game against Manchester City on 2 February this year show Johnson signing autographs for young fans.

Eight days later he admitted grooming and kissing the girl.

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