Adam Johnson will no longer be known for his ability on the football pitch. His past achievements of winning the Premier League, FA Cup and 12 England caps hold no significance. From now on, the former Middlesbrough, Manchester City and Sunderland winger will be remembered as a convicted sex offender.
On Wednesday afternoon at Bradford Crown Court, a jury of eight women and four men found him guilty by majority verdict of 10-2 on one count of sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl. This came after he had already pleaded guilty to one charge of grooming and one count of sexual activity with a child. He was found not guilty on a charge relating to another sexual act.
The disgraced Johnson is not “the villain of the piece” as his defense barrister Orlando Pownall QC tried to have the jury believe in his closing statements last Friday. He took advantage of his hero status to abuse a young Sunderland fan, who was forced to recount her experience in the three-week court case.
After the verdict, Johnson's victim released a powerful statement in which she revealed the devastating impact that the ordeal has had on her health.
"It’s been the hardest year of my life," she said in a statement. "I was made out to be a liar. What happened in his car has turned my life upside down. I have lost all of my confidence. The gossip on social media and hearing all of the horrible names that people have been calling me has been devastating to me, my friends and my family.
"There have been times when I’ve wanted to hide away from the world. There have been times when I’ve tried not to show people how upset I am, but sometimes it hasn’t been possible and I’d just cry. I’ve felt so broken.
"I hope Adam realizes the hurt and damage he has caused. I now want to put this awful experience behind me and begin to rebuild my life."
National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) provides aid to adult survivors of child abuse. The organization's head of public affairs, Kath Stipala, fears that Johnson's abuse at the trial will haunt the victim, now 16, into her adulthood.
"The time that the legal process can take, and people have to retell their accounts of the most humiliating and degrading experiences you've ever suffered in your life," she told Goal after the trial had concluded. "Having to talk about it publicly, over and over again, it's quite a hostile situation.
"The court process can be really traumatizing, especially things like defense questioning, being called a liar, and aggressive behavior. People who when they first disclosed they were abused might have been called a liar if they were a child who told someone. So when they get called a liar in court, that's a really traumatizing experience."
Ms. Stipala added: "It's a child, it doesn't matter what they wanted the person to do. The onus is on the adult to behave appropriately." Johnson knew that the girl was still at school and was under 16 years of age, but that didn't stop him.
The whole affair began on Dec. 31, 2014 after the girl had attracted Johnson’s attention by asking for his autograph outside Sunderland's ground, the Stadium of Light.
They met in private the following month on Jan. 17, 2015 and, again, 13 days later. There was disagreement over the second meeting – the victim claimed they engaged in two sex acts, whereas the defendant denied it went any further than kissing.
The 28-year-old was sacked by his club Sunderland on day one of the trial, Feb. 10, after changing his plea to guilty on two of the four charges against him having originally given no plea.
Johnson exchanged 834 WhatsApp messages with the victim, making a string of "creepy" comments and remarking that the girl "owed" him for signing a shirt in his Range Rover. After they met for the second time in a secluded car park, on Jan. 30, 2015, he mentioned to the underage girl that she had "felt very turned on" and that they "might have to go in the back [of the car] next time."
The footballer admitted he was hoping to have sex with the child but protested that, once he had started kissing her, he "knew it was wrong and I didn't want it to carry on any further." Prosecutor Kate Blackwell QC told the jury in her closing statement that "he is lying that it went no further than a kiss" and highlighted Johnson's Google search of the UK's age of sexual consent four days after this last meeting.
Johnson confessed that he felt "absolutely awful" about his actions and stressed his own "stupidity," apologizing in court to the victim and her family. But his remorseful words were undermined by his insistence that the victim fabricated the sexual activity to police.
Johnson, who showed no emotion in court as he was found guilty on three of the four charges against him, doesn't deserve a shred of sympathy for destroying his own life. But spare a thought for the lives around him that he has ruined.
As with any victim of child abuse, the girl Johnson groomed - who is guaranteed the legal right to lifetime anonymity - has been put at risk of long-term psychological damage.
Victims can continue to suffer into adulthood with post-traumatic stress, depression, self-harm and low self-esteem, and have an increased chance of committing suicide or falling into crime, prostitution or alcoholism.
The girl's father revealed during the trial that his daughter was "crying her eyes out and saying she wanted to kill herself” prior to telling him of the abuse she had suffered.
NAPAC'S Kath Stipala added: "A lot of what the crime is, is the impact on the person. The loss of trust, that sense of violation, it stays with them for years. It harms their ability to have relationships in the future. It's a big psychological impact."
In addition to the crimes he committed, Johnson’s defense barrister accused the victim of “barricading herself with the untruths she told” in an effort to discredit the legitimacy of her testimony - which will only have added to the schoolgirl's torment.
The victim's statement included this harrowing line: "I’ve been in some very dark places over that time and I thought the trial and giving evidence, having my say, would give me closure. But it didn’t. It put me back into the same dark places and I felt worse than I’ve ever felt before. This was because I still didn’t feel believed."
Johnson also subjected the mother of his one-year-old daughter to total public humiliation. Her name won't be mentioned in this article because she deserves a level of victim anonymity too.
After attending the court with Johnson on day one of the trial, the 26-year-old woman’s picture and name were plastered all over the front pages of the British tabloids, leading the public to question why she was standing by her man.
During the case it was revealed that the two had actually split but “remain friends,” though it was too late to stop the tidal wave of sick abuse she was also receiving on social media that led to her closing her Facebook account.
She was brought to tears in the courtroom as it was described how, just a couple of weeks after she had given birth to their daughter, Johnson had secretly met with the child victim. She was demeaned in public after hearing how her former partner had cheated on her with “several women” throughout their relationship. Her name is now associated with a sex offender and there's nothing she has done to deserve it.
Similarly, Sunderland didn't ask for the negative publicity, but the club was forced to answer allegations after the trial that it was aware the player may not have been innocent of all charges.
The court heard that Sunderland chief executive Margaret Byrne had been in possession of Johnson's police interview copy and transcripts of his suggestive WhatsApp messages with the child since May 4, 2015.
“It’s plain Sunderland football club knew exactly what was going on, they choose for whatever reason, rightly or wrongly, whether for commercial considerations or in the knowledge they were facing relegation, they allowed him to play. It might be in hindsight they regret that decision,” Johnson's defense barrister, Mr Pownall QC, said.
The Wearside club released a statement on Wednesday insisting that it was unaware that the footballer it purchased for 10 million pounds ($14.1M) in 2012 from Man City would change his plea to guilty.
"A suggestion was made that the club knew all along that Mr. Johnson was intending to change his plea just before trial to enable him to continue to play football for the club and that the club may also have been involved in tactical discussions about the plea," Sunderland stated. "This is utterly without foundation and is refuted in the strongest possible terms.
"Had the club known that Mr. Johnson intended to plead guilty to any of these charges, then his employment would have been terminated immediately."
The fact that the real victim was only mentioned once - in the penultimate paragraph - of Sunderland's 686-word statement does not look good.
His defense team denied that Johnson delayed his guilty plea to ensure Sunderland didn't terminate his £60,000-a-week contract until the last possible moment. But it looks like that will be the last paycheck he earns for a long time as judge Jonathan Rose warned him that he will be going to prison.
"You must understand when you return here at the end of March that it will be to receive a substantial prison sentence," the judge told Johnson before granting him bail to say goodbye to his daughter ahead of sentencing in two-to-three weeks' time.
Having been reprimanded by the judge for joking with a security guard earlier in the trial, there was no smiling from Johnson as he faced up to spending between four and 10 years behind bars.
In court, Johnson was described as “repugnant” by his own legal counsel, “deceitful and manipulative” by the prosecution, and “a bit of a pedophile” by a friend of the victim giving evidence. The disgraced footballer, who should not be allowed to play the sport again, is all of these things and worse. He has destroyed his own reputation forever, risked causing long-term psychological damage to his victim and ruined so many other lives around him.