Children's charity writes to FA voicing fears over 'cultural problem' in football after 'horrifying' Adam Johnson case

A children's charity has called on everyone to make child safety a priority "whether you're Premier League or Sunday League" following the sentencing of former England footballer Adam Johnson.

The NSPCC, which described Johnson's behaviour as "horrifying" and "inexcusable", has sent a letter to the Football Association expressing concerns about a potential "cultural problem" within the sport.

Adam Johnson. Picture by PA.

Adam Johnson. Picture by PA.

Recap on the trial on our live blog here
In the letter, the charity said it was concerned about the approach taken by Sunderland Football Club when confronted with a serious child protection issue.

It said: "We are worried this could be a cultural problem within football as a whole and find it concerning clubs may not see incidents such as these as a child protection issue.

"This is not only about one rogue player that behaved badly, but a club that seemingly did not have child protection priorities embedded into their culture.

"It was not equipped to handle these allegations and seemingly did not deal with them appropriately, or indeed seriously."

Adam Johnson. Picture by PA.

Adam Johnson. Picture by PA.

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After Johnson's trial ended, a row erupted over just how much Sunderland AFC knew about what their player had done when they let him play on before finally sacking him earlier this year after his guilty pleas.

The club later said it was ''so very sorry'' for letting down its 15-year-old fan after chief executive Margaret Byrne resigned.

Adam Johnson's parents leaving court. Picture by PA.

Adam Johnson's parents leaving court. Picture by PA.

Ms Byrne admitted ''a serious error of judgment'' in advising the board that the star winger could carry on playing after he was initially suspended last March.

An NSPCC spokesman said: "Adam Johnson's behaviour throughout this sordid affair was horrifying, inexcusable and made worse by his not guilty pleas which forced his victim to suffer the harrowing experience of giving evidence in court."

He added: "It was worrying that child safeguarding took second place to getting results on the pitch. That can never be allowed to happen again at any club.

"We have written to the Football Association to ensure it encourages clubs to embed its extensive safeguarding measures into the culture of every team in the country.

"Football clubs and indeed footballers are role models and need to understand how they play a key part in the lives of young people. Players should set an example and not take advantage of the shirt they wear.

"We want to join with the FA to hammer home the message: child safety is everyone's responsibility, whether you're Premier League or Sunday League."

Barnardo's chief executive Javed Khan said: "This sentence shows that abusers who groom and have sexual activity with a child must pay for their actions, whether they are famous or not.

"The victim in this case was exploited and left devastated by the person she idolised. She showed incredible bravery in giving evidence in a courtroom setting."

Peter Grigg, external affairs director for The Children’s Society, said: “An estimated 16,500 children and young people are at high risk of sexual exploitation in our country today. The Government has declared sexual exploitation to be a national threat and the shameful truth is that children are still being groomed for sex up and down the country.

“Cases like this illustrate how children are so vulnerable to grooming, manipulation and abuse. We see from our frontline work with victims that it takes incredible courage for young people to come forward and speak about their experiences. When they do, they must be listened to.

“Parents, professionals and young people must be made aware of the early warning signs so children can be better protected from grooming, abuse and exploitation. There also needs to be more investment in desperately needed therapy for girls and boys traumatised by sexual abuse and exploitation. Vulnerable children and teenagers will continue to suffer until the Government is willing to commit the resources needed to help children recover from the abuse they have experienced.”