Sunderland’s chief executive Margaret Byrne has resigned in the wake of the Adam Johnson case, saying the decision to allow the player to continue to represent the club after he was charged was “a serious mistake”.
Here is her statement in full:
“In light of recent speculation and media coverage I wish to clarify a number of points relating to my handling of the Adam Johnson issue.
I first met with police representatives after Mr Johnson had been arrested and whilst he was still in custody.
At this time they outlined the nature of the allegations but did not go into detail as he had not been interviewed or charged at this point.
After this meeting with the police I took the decision to suspend Mr Johnson, which was agreed by the club’s Board and chairman.
This suspension was lifted after two weeks, after the club’s position was considered with external legal advisers and the PFA.
Mr Johnson had still not been charged with any offence.
Mr Johnson maintained, as he did throughout the entire process, that he would strenuously fight all charges.
Mr Johnson asked me for a recommendation regarding legal representation and I arranged for him to meet Orlando Pownall QC.
Mr Johnson’s father sent me some documents that he asked me to forward to Mr Pownall, which I did.
I did not examine the contents of these documents in any detail.
Because I had recommended Mr Pownall, I attended part of the introductory meeting at which Mr Pownall met with Mr Johnson.
This meeting took place on 4 May, 2015.
After this meeting, Mr Pownall sent me a note to forward to Mr Johnson which recorded, amongst other things, that Mr Johnson had kissed the victim and communicated with her.
I did not share this information with anybody including the board of Sunderland AFC.
In the following days, Mr Johnson engaged Mr Pownall and changed his legal team and he confirmed to me that he was intending to defend each charge.
He told me that he was confident of a successful outcome.
I did not meet Mr Pownall again and I played no part in respect of plea decisions that he made with his legal team.
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 judgment and I accept full responsibility for this.
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.
Based on the information that I had and satisfied that risk assessments had been made, safeguarding measures put in place and the appropriate bodies consulted, I understood the legal process would run its course.
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.
Mr Johnson’s victim has endured a terrible ordeal and for that I am truly sorry.
At no time was the failure to suspend him again intended to cause any harm or distress to her or her family.
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.
I sincerely regret that this error has impacted on the victim, the club, its supporters and all those affected in such a devastating manner.
Sunderland AFC has a long and proud history.
To see the criticism levelled against it in the last week, and the effect that has had on its staff and supporters in light of this decision, has hurt me deeply.
To this end and for the long-term good of the club and its staff, I have stepped down as CEO with immediate effect.
I thank everyone at Sunderland AFC for their support over the last nine years.
I will make no further comment.