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Sunderland's Northern Ireland-born CEO under mounting pressure over dealings with Adam Johnson

By David Young

Published 05/03/2016

Sunderland chief executive Margaret Byrne
Sunderland chief executive Margaret Byrne

Pressure was mounting on Sunderland FC chief executive Margaret Byrne last night to provide a convincing explanation why the club failed to act when it was first made aware of star player Adam Johnson's grooming of a 15-year-old schoolgirl fan.

Millionaire winger Johnson was found guilty this week of one count of engaging in sexual activity with a child, while he had previously admitted to two other charges.

The verdict came on the 14th day of his trial at Bradford Crown Court.

Sunderland manager Sam Allardyce revealed this week 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.

It emerged during Johnson's trial on child sex charges 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.

Johnson's barrister also revealed to the court that Ms Byrne saw police interview transcripts that showed Johnson confessing he had exchanged hundreds of messages with, and kissed, a 15-year-old supporter.

Ms Byrne became chief executive of Sunderland FC in 2011.

Aged just 31 when she was appointed, the legally-trained executive is 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.

It emerged last night that Adam Johnson will be deleted 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.

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