Sunderland ‘stuck with Johnson to avoid drop’

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Sportsmail understands that the club are preparing a statement for release after the conclusion of Johnson’s trial on two counts of sexual activity with a child.

The 28-year-old pleaded guilty on February 10 to grooming as well as kissing and touching a 15-year-old girl, and was sacked by Sunderland the following day.

However, Johnson and his representatives have since told the court that chief executive Margaret Byrne knew of his guilt from shortly after his arrest in March of last year.

Supporters have reacted with shock and anger to the claims and are demanding answers from the club. They want to know if Johnson did confess to them nearly a year ago and, if so, why he was not sacked immediately.

Johnson played a further 28 times and helped the team escape relegation last season. He has scored two goals in this campaign, including the opener in a Tyne-Wear derby victory over Newcastle. In that time he earned around £3m in wages.

The club are declining to comment because of the ongoing trial, but they are expected to address accusations against them after Johnson’s barrister, Orlando Pownall QC, told the jury at Bradford Crown Court: ‘It is plain Sunderland football club knew exactly what was going on.

‘They chose for whatever reason, rightly or wrongly, whether for commercial considerations or in the knowledge they were facing relegation and didn’t want to lose one of their players, they allowed him to play. It might be in hindsight they regret that decision.’

The court has heard how Byrne had full copies of Johnson’s police interviews and transcripts of his WhatsApp messages with the schoolgirl when Sunderland’s chief executive met the player and his barrister on May 4 last year.

By this point Johnson had been reinstated to the first-team squad having been suspended for two weeks following his arrest.

Byrne is a member of the Premier League Legal Advisory Group. It is understood the Premier League leaves the selection of players to the discretion of individual clubs.

The judge in Johnson’s trial will finish his summing up of the evidence today and the jury will be sent out to consider their verdict.

Daily Mail

Original source: Sunderland 'stuck with Johnson to avoid drop'

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