Shamed former Sunderland star Adam Johnson has been jailed for six years for child sex offences involving an underage fan.
The 28-year-old, of Castle Eden, County Durham, admitted grooming and one count of sexual activity with a child at Bradford Crown Court, and was found guilty of one other charge on March 2. He was cleared of a further offence.
Judge Jonathan Rose today jailed Johnson for six years after a sentencing hearing. He was also ordered to pay £50,000 costs and given a restraining order against contacting the girl.
He told Johnson: “You were her favourite player. She had a crush on you – that is to say a young teenager’s adoration of a successful celebrity.”
“She had only just turned 15 when you began to groom her because, as you were to admit in your evidence in this trial, because you found her sexually attractive and you wanted to have some sexual intimacy with her.”
The judge also said these crimes took place at a time that Johnson was engaged in sexual activity with a number of partners.
He said the girl was “deeply distressed” by having to give evidence. This only had to happen because Johnson did not plead guilty at first.
He added: “All of this is entirely your own responsibility and fault.”
Judge Rose also spoke about what Johnson had told the sexual psychotherapist with whom he met about the girl.
In reading the comments, the judge said: “I treated her like any of the girls I met. I put her age out of my mind. She was just another girl, another opportunity. She was attractive enough, another one to get with.”
‘Severe psychological harm’
Prior to the trial Johnson admitted kissing and grooming her, with 834 electronic messages exchanged between the pair.
Jurors were told by Johnson himself that he was “sexually attracted” to the girl from the beginning, and that he did want to engage in sexual activity with her,
Kate Blackwell QC, prosecuting, told the court today that the victim in the case was taunted and bullied as a result of her involvement with Johnson.
The prosecutor read statements from the girl, who is now 16, the girl’s mother and also a report from a counsellor who had meetings with the girl.
In her statement, the girl said: “For a whole year I have been accused of many things and being unable to defend myself has been hard to deal with - not just for me but for my family and close friends.
“I just wanted to pretend I didn’t exist and none of this was real.”
The court heard that the girl had felt “intense emotions” including sadness and anger since the crimes - with her eating and sleeping patterns also affected.
The girl’s mother described in her own statement the impact that this had on her family - and added that they got “no satisfaction” from seeing Johnson’s family suffer too.
“As her mother I have felt powerless to defend or speak out for her.”
It was also heard that a psychosexual therapist met with Johnson and wrote a report on him.
The 28-year-old has committed to having therapy or treatment to understand his sexual desires, Miss Blackwell told the court.
She added: “He does not have a deviant sexual interest.”
The prosecutor argued that Johnson’s decision to continue playing for Sunderland was his responsibility alone - and added to the psychological harm suffered by the victim.
The girl’s mother admitted in her own statement that her daughter received “thousands of malicious” communications and threats of violence.
Miss Blackwell said: “He chose not to enter the pleas when he had the first opportunity to do. He decided to continue playing for the football club, earning his wages and encouraging adulation from his fans.
“How is that the fault of anyone but himself?”
She said there was a “significant disparity” in age between the defendant, who was of previous good character, and the victim. She said: “At the time of the commission of these offences, (the victim) was one month after her 15th birthday and the defendant was 27. He was all but twice her age, 13 years older.” She added: “The most apparent feature in the view of the Crown is the severe psychological harm that the defendant has caused to the victim.” Johnson, 28, who entered the court chewing gum, was without the support of former partner Stacey Flounders, the mother of his one-year-old daughter, and his sister, Faye Johnson, who used a Facebook post to say she would not attend the hearing because she did not want her brother “to see the pain in my eyes”. Miss Blackwell said the victim had suffered at school, both in her work and from bullying because of Johnson’s actions.
‘Impulsive and immature’
In mitigation, Johnson’s barrister Orlando Pownall QC, told this morning’s hearing that the 28-year-old is not a “predatory paedophile”.
He said: “He has lost a lucrative career which he will never be able to retrieve.
“He has been stripped of his England caps and he has been made the subject of national humiliation and these are all aspects of punishment that arise from his pleas and from conviction.”
“Mr Johnson is an emotionally immature young man who has an impulsive attitude towards engaging in sexual activity and he has, because of his status, had ample opportunity.”
At the sentence hearing this morning, Dr Philip Hopley, deputy medical director at the Priory Hospital, Roehampton, gave evidence in mitigation.
He said that Johnson was an “impulsive man” who was “socially and psychologically immature”.
He developed late, Dr Hopley said, and felt like he did not compare to his peers in football. He also lacked self confidence and sexual experience.
This later changed as he was “exposed to celebrity and wealth”.
The doctor told the court that Johnson said prison would be a relief, and added: “He said ‘I just want to let the people I have hurt get on with their lives now’.”
Dr Hopley confirmed to Mr Pownall that he believed Johnson was not attracted to pre-pubescent children.
His barrister added: “The victim was not selected because of her age but in spite of it.”
‘Exploited young star-struck fan’
Gerry Wareham, CPS Chief Crown Prosecutor for the North East, said: “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. He gave no thought to this girl’s interests or welfare during that time or at any point since, repeatedly denying any wrongdoing for nearly 11 months until his trial began.
“We should all be clear that there is only one victim in this case, the fifteen year old girl he sexually assaulted.
“This situation had a devastating effect on the young victim and it is my sincere hope that she and her family will be granted the respect and space they deserve, to recover and rebuild their lives.”