Adam Johnson: Did shamed footballer plead not guilty so he could pocket £3million?

The reason behind Adam Johnson's decision not to plead guilty to kissing a 15-year-old Sunderland fan until the first day of his trial was repeatedly questioned during the three-week case.

Adam Johnson continued playing for months after making initial admissions about what he'd done with the girl.
Adam Johnson continued playing for months after making initial admissions about what he'd done with the girl.

He admitted the offence to police during his first interview and he said he made full and frank admissions to the football club a short time afterwards.

But he continued to deny the charge in court and - except for a brief two-week suspension immediately following his arrest - bosses at Sunderland allowed the £60,000-a-week winger to continue playing.

During that time - from March 18 last year until he was sacked by the club on February 11 this year - he will have earned around £3million.

But were "commercial considerations" - on behalf of a multi-million-pound star player and a Premier League team facing relegation - the reason behind his failure to plead guilty earlier?

Or was it, as his defence barrister suggested, simply a "strategy and tactic" to avoid a "blaze of publicity" ahead of his trial on further child sex offences?

It is a question that may be asked of Sunderland AFC following the conviction of their former player.

The trial heard that police spoke to chief executive Margaret Byrne on the day of Johnson's arrest on March 2 last year.

By May 4, when Mrs Byrne met with Johnson and his barrister Orlando Pownall QC, the club had all 834 WhatsApp messages exchanged between the footballer and the teenage girl and transcripts of police interviews with Johnson and the girl.

Johnson said he told the club he had passionately kissed the girl with tongues, that he had been aroused and that he had made no secret of the content of the messages between them.

He denied prosecution suggestions that he had "60,000 very good reasons each week" to delay entering his guilty pleas, and said he had not pleaded guilty during initial appearances at Durham Crown Court because he had been advised not to.

During legal arguments, Johnson's barrister Orlando Pownall QC told the court he had been concerned about publicity in the run-up to the trial.

He said: "We felt it may prejudice the outcome of the eventual trial if his plea was entered early."

Mr Pownall told the jury: "It has been suggested that he should have pleaded guilty earlier and he was playing games with the court and that he was just interested in earning more money.

"There is simply no foundation for that at all. He was given advice."

He continued: "It is plain Sunderland Football Club knew exactly what was going on.

"They had the statements, they had Mr Johnson's interview and they chose in that knowledge, rightly or wrongly you may conclude - whether for commercial considerations or in the knowledge they were facing relegation and did not want to lose one of their star players - to allow him to continue playing.

"It may very well be they regret that decision."