A file handout photograph released by Durham Police on March 2, 2016, shows former Sunderland footballer Adam Johnson posing for his custody photograph at a police station in north east England. AFP
LONDON, United Kingdom (AFP) – Former England footballer Adam Johnson was sentenced to six years in prison at Bradford Crown Court on Thursday after being found guilty of sexual activity with a 15-year-old fan.
Johnson, once a winger with Sunderland and Manchester City, was found guilty following an incident in his Range Rover car in County Durham, north-east England, last year.
The 28-year-old had also pleaded guilty to another count of sexual activity with a child and one count of grooming a child.
Judge Jonathan Rose, passing sentence, said the victim — who cannot be named for legal reasons — had been a Sunderland fan who would wait after matches to take pictures of her “favourite player”, Johnson, who had known her age.
“That was known to you — to put it another way she had only just turned 15 when you began grooming her, because as you were to admit you found her sexually attractive,” said the judge.
Judge Rose said that the offences happened “at a time when you were engaged in frequent sexual intercourse with multiple partners”.
“You made a deliberate decision to engage in sexual activity with this young girl, no doubt in the expectation that you would get away with it.”
Johnson was found guilty on March 2 before being granted bail ahead of Thursday’s sentencing.
He was sacked by struggling Premier League side Sunderland last month as the north-east club terminated his £60,000 ($84,675, 75,909 euros) per week contract and Judge Rose said: “Your future as a professional footballer must be in doubt.”
He told Johnson he had “every opportunity” to enter guilty pleas to the charges he eventually admitted and that by not doing so his victim had been subjected to a year of being called a liar, including chants by fans.
“She speaks of entering many dark places in that year and said she had suffered bullying and stress and had underachieved at school as a result of the case,” the judge said.
Judge Rose also ordered Johnson to pay £50,000 of the prosecution’s £67,132 costs.
Dr Philip Hopley, a consultant psychiatrist giving evidence for the defence, had previously told the court: “This is a man who, at the age of 28, is socially and psychologically immature.”
He added that he had found no evidence in Johnson of an attraction to pre-pubescent children or “sexual perversion”.
Earlier on Thursday, Johnson’s sister did not accompany him into court but stressed she was still “100 percent behind him”.
In a Facebook post, Faye Johnson said she had stayed away from court because “Adam has always been my hero, my brother and my best friend, I just don’t want him to see the pain in my eyes!”
But Gerry Wareham, the chief prosecutor for England’s north-east region, insisted any sympathy regarding a football career cut short was misplaced.
“Adam Johnson exploited a young star-struck fan, actively grooming her over a number of months in single-minded pursuit of his own sexual gratification,” Wareham said in a statement.
“We should all be clear that there is only one victim in this case, the fifteen-year-old girl he sexually assaulted.
The fall-out from the case saw Sunderland chief executive Margaret Byrne resign on March 8.
Byrne said she had made “a serious mistake” in being party to the decision to let Johnson play on for the club for nearly a year despite knowing he had admitted to kissing a 15-year-old girl.