Belfast Telegraph

Sunderland's Northern Ireland-born CEO Margaret Byrne resigns over Adam Johnson 'error'

Sunderland AFC chief executive Margaret Byrne has resigned.

It comes after multi-millionaire winger Adam Johnson was found guilty of one count of engaging in sexual activity with a child, while he had previously admitted to two other charges.

The club has faced mounting pressure of how it handled the player after he was charged.

Sunderland said Ms Byrne was responsible for how the club dealt with the case.

Following Johnson's guilty verdict, Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce revealed that Byrne - who comes from Dromintee in Co Armagh - did not tell him that she had known since May 2015 that Johnson had confessed to grooming a female fan.

The player had made the admission during police interviews.

In a statement, Sunderland said: "The Board of Sunderland AFC has today accepted the resignation of Margaret Byrne.

"Margaret, in her role as CEO, was responsible for the running of the club.

"She was also accountable for the actions taken by the club in relation to Mr Johnson.  Sunderland AFC acknowledges that Margaret's intentions have always been to act in the best interests of the club, however it has become clear through our own internal investigations that in this instance decisions have been taken by Margaret in error.

"Whilst swift and decisive action was taken to terminate Mr Johnson’s employment upon his guilty plea, decisions taken prior to this, including the decision not to suspend him for a second time pending the outcome of the trial, were wrong."

It emerged during Johnson's trial that a senior detective had met Ms Byrne in 2015 to discuss the allegations against Johnson. Detective Inspector Aelfwynn Sampson of Durham Police told Bradford Crown Court that on the day of Johnson's arrest, she met with Ms Byrne to inform her of the allegations facing the player.

"I disclosed the offences which Mr Johnson had been arrested for, and considered safeguarding for any other young people who may come into contact with him in his role as a professional footballer," the senior police officer said.

Orlando Pownall QC, in defending Johnson in court, had said that she had been given copies of the messages between Johnson and the girl in a meeting on May 4. The police also suggested that she had.

The club statement continued: "In light of what has been acknowledged by Margaret as a serious error of judgment on her part, we have undertaken a full review of the club’s decision-making processes to ensure that there can be no such mistakes in the future.

"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.

"Mr Johnson lied to the club; he also lied to our fans and they have every right to feel aggrieved by this. Lessons have been learned and we hope that the club and its fans can move forward from this together."

Adam Johnson was removed from video games Football Manager and Pro Evolution Soccer.

It is estimated that the disgraced player has lost up to £10m in earnings after being sacked by his club.

However, it was reported that Johnson earned almost £3m in his 28 appearances for the club after he was charged.

Read more: Facebook page supporting Adam Johnson removed

Ms Byrne became chief executive of Sunderland FC in 2011.

Aged just 31 when she was appointed, the legally-trained executive was one of the youngest supremos in the English Premier League. She was previously legal director and company secretary at the club.

Last year, Ms Byrne was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Science by the Ulster University in recognition of her services to sport and business.

She had started a degree in consumer studies at university in Belfast, before completing a conversion course to law in London.

She specialised in financial settlements, divorce cases and criminal law at Galbraith Branley in north London before moving to Goodman Ray. In 2007, she answered a job advert in the Sunday Times as Sunderland sought a new club secretary.

The Irish influence at Sunderland at the time was considerable. Niall Quinn was the chairman, who was overseeing a revolution inside the club. Roy Keane was the new manager.

Four years later, she replaced Steve Walton as chief executive at the Stadium of Light. Byrne was then voted onto the FA Council. and joined the Premier League legal advisory board.

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