Margaret Byrne resigns in wake of Adam Johnson child sex case “Details”

Updated: March 10, 2016
Margaret Byrne resigns in wake of Adam Johnson child sex case - Details

Chief Executive of Sunderland AFC Margaret Byrne has resigned from her position at the club following pressure in the wake of the Adam Johnson trial.

Johnson was suspended a year ago then allowed back into the team until his trial when he pleaded guilty to grooming and a sexual activity with a child.

Pressure was put on the club after Johnson’s legal team told Bradford Crown Court the club was aware that he had told police he kissed the 15-year-old girl.

Sunderland had stated Johnson had told them he intended to deny all the charges against him.

Ms Byrne, from Dromintee, Co Armagh, became Sunderland FC chief executive in 2011, aged 31, four years after she began working for the club as legal director and club secretary in 2007.

After leaving school she completed a consumer studies degree at the University of Ulster before studying law in London.

She said in a statement on Tuesday: “Contrary to what has been suggested, I did not understand that Mr Johnson intended to change his plea at trial or at all.

“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 judgement and I accept full responsibility for this.”

Sunderland apologised to the 15-year-old fan and said although Ms Byrne acted in the club’s best interest, investigations found decisions were taken “in error”.

The club said: “Throughout this deeply regretful situation, we recognise that one devoted young fan and her family have been very badly let down, first and foremost by Mr Johnson and his despicable actions, but also by the club they support.

“We are so very sorry for this.”

Ms Byrne also expressed sympathy to the girl who was groomed by the player she idolised.

“Mr Johnson’s victim has endured a terrible ordeal and for that I am truly sorry,” she said.

“At no time was the failure to suspend him again intended to cause any harm or distress to her or her family.”

She said: “I recognise that, as CEO, my involvement with Mr Johnson and the decision to allow him to continue to represent the club was a serious mistake.”

Ms Byrne detailed how she put Johnson in touch with eminent barrister Orlando Pownall after the player asked for advice about legal representation.

She said the player’s father sent her some documents to be forwarded to the barrister, but she did not examine the contents of these documents “in any detail” and attended part of the introductory meeting with the QC on May 4.

Mr Pownall sent her a note to forward to the player which said Johnson had kissed the victim and communicated with her.

She did not pass this information on to the board.

She added: “Mr Johnson remained innocent until proven guilty and I was concerned that any action taken by the club against him may be misinterpreted as a judgment on the club’s part as to his guilt at a time when he steadfastly maintained his determination to plead not guilty and fight the charges.

“On that basis I recommended to the board that Mr Johnson should be allowed to play for the club, pending trial.”