Sunderland CEO resigns over Johnson mistake

Sunderland's chief executive has resigned after accepting Adam Johnson shouldn't have continued playing for the Premier League club while awaiting trial for sex abuse (Scott Heppell/AP)

LONDON — Sunderland‘s chief executive resigned on Tuesday after admitting it was a "serious mistake" to let Adam Johnson continue playing for the Premier League club while awaiting trial for sexual activity with a child.

Johnson said during the trial he admitted in a meeting with CEO Margaret Byrne in May to kissing the girl and swapping messages with her. He was still allowed to play until before the trial started last month, scoring in his last game — a 2-2 draw at Liverpool.

The former England international was only sacked by Sunderland when he pleaded guilty at the start of his trial to one charge of sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl and another of "grooming" — building an emotional connection with a child to gain trust for sexual motives.

Two further counts of sexual activity with a child were denied by Johnson. A jury cleared the 28-year-old midfielder of one count last week but convicted him of another, by a majority of 10-2.

"I recognize that, as CEO, my involvement with Mr. Johnson and the decision to allow him to continue to represent the club was a serious mistake," Byrne said in a statement. "I sincerely regret that this error has impacted on the victim, the club, its supporters and all those affected in such a devastating manner."

Byrne said she did not share any of the information received at the May meeting, including Johnson’s admission he kissed the 15-year-old, with anybody else at the club.

"Contrary to what has been suggested, I did not understand that Mr. Johnson intended to change his plea at trial or at all," Byrne said. "I was astounded when he did plead guilty.

"I accept that Mr. Johnson should not have been permitted to play again, irrespective of what he was going to plead. It was a serious error of judgment and I accept full responsibility for this."

Sunderland is owned by American businessman Ellis Short.

"The club’s board was made aware of the broad nature of the allegations, which were a matter of public knowledge, but not of the detail that I was personally privy to," Byrne said.

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