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Adam Johnson and Sunderland AFC – the responsibilities of an employer in a case of criminal acts

by Published on

Sunderland football club has a responsibility to explain what it knew about Adam Johnson’s sexual liaison with a teenager, an MP has said.

Chief executive Margaret Byrne is under pressure to make clear what the club knew and when.

Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott said the club should explain “why the decision was made to allow him back.”

The club has refused to reveal what legal advice led it to reinstate the player two weeks after suspending him.

Durham Police said Ms Byrne was told on the day of Johnson’s arrest that he had allegedly messaged and kissed the schoolgirl.

The club has not said what was involved in a safeguarding assessment made before he was allowed to play again and whether the club warned him against signing autographs for young fans.

Ms Elliott said: “In the normal world of work, if serious allegations are made in the workplace then people are suspended and, of course, we’ve got to remember Adam Johnson was suspended by the club when these allegations were made.

“The question for me is more why the decision was made to allow him back.”

The former England and Sunderland winger was found guilty of one count of sexual activity with a child, cleared of another and earlier admitted grooming and kissing a 15-year-old schoolgirl after giving her signed shirts.

A Newcastle employment lawyer says the club could be corporately liable for his crimes.

Robert Gibson, from Samuel Phillips Law Firm, said the club “had a risk” on the basis he was paid to represent, not just play for, the club.

“In what capacity is Mr Johnson employed by Sunderland?” he asked.

“He’s not just paid to play football, he’s an ambassador, it’s a sport entertainment industry, they [players] are told, whenever they are outside the club they have a duty to behave and conduct themselves properly.

“I understand that he was using memorabilia such as football shirts to basically seduce this young lady, so I think Sunderland may have a risk there.”

Mr Gibson made the comparison with a legal decision this week that supermarket chain Morrisons was responsible for the criminal actions of its staff.

The decision was based on the “sufficient connection” between the job and the “wrongful conduct”, he said.

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