Adam Johnson – Guilty of Sexual Activity with a Child

Adam Johnson – Guilty of Sexual Activity with a Child


Introduction and Facts 
Adam Johnson, the Sunderland and England footballer was arrested on 2nd March 2015 and later charged with three offences of sexual activity with a girl under 16 (contrary to s9 Sexual Offences Act 2003) and one count of grooming (contrary to s15 Sexual Offences Act 2003).

At the start of his trial (on 10th February 2016) he pleaded guilty to one of the allegations of sexual activity and the grooming charge.

He stood his trial on the remaining two counts and the jury gave their verdicts on 2nd March 2016.

There were three different ‘sex acts’ (seemingly standard journalist speak unfortunately) charged in three different allegations –

  • kissing the girl – Guilty plea at the start of the trial
  • oral sex – Not Guilty
  • sexual touching – Guilty, by a majority of 10-2
  • Grooming – Guilty plea at the start of the trial

Mr Johnson has been bailed until the date of sentence (absolutely standard, in case you were wondering).

What will the sentence be?
The sentence will be governed by the Sentencing Guidelines for Sexual Offences :
Sexual Activity with a child (p45) – here we thought that this would have been Category 2 on the Count on which he was convicted (as always, it is very difficult to get the actual facts) in terms of Harm.

It will probably be Culpability A for both, because of the grooming and the abuse of trust.

This gives a starting point of 3 years with a range of 2-6 years.

However, some outlets reported that the sexual activity was digital penetration of the victim’s vagina. This would be a Cat 1A offence which includes penetration of the vagina or anus by any part of the body or object, or penile penetration of the mouth.

This would tie in with the Judge’s comments saying that “his preliminary view was that the case falls into the category of a five-year prison sentence with a range of four to 10 years”.


Grooming (p63) – Again there is a breach of trust, which is enough to put it as higher Culpability. We don’t know enough to be sure, but it looks like it should be lower (non-raised) harm.
This has a starting point of 2 years, with a range of 1-4 years.


It is likely that there will be a ‘lead’ sentence on the main charge with shorter, concurrent, sentences on the other two offences in the circumstances (less serious and a guilty plea, albeit at a very late stage in the day).

It is difficult to say for sure, but we would be expecting a sentence of around 5 years.

He will likely remain on the Sex Offenders Register for the rest of his life. It is doubtful that he would need a Risk of Sexual Harm Order.

Dan is a barrister at 2 Dr. Johnson’s Buildings practising in crime.


  1. Anyone understand how the jury came to the decision that he was innocent of one charge and guilty of the other?

    Surely the evidence for both charges was exactly the same (ie what the girl said), what else could they base their deliberations on?

  2. It happens very regularly that juries are sure on one Count and not another.

    For example (and I am not saying that this happened in Mr Johnson’s case) I can think of one case where (in my view) the complainants evidence was true in relation to almost all counts, but it was palpably clear that she was not telling the truth on others. The evidence was the ‘same’ on all – her word against his, but the split verdicts were not a surprise.

    Or, as the lawyers would say, credibility is not indivisible.

    In any event, it may well be (but I don’t know in this case) that there is other evidence on some counts but not others.

  3. Yeah, I see what you’re saying…..

    The thing is, in this case there is absolutely no evidence, no witnesses, no video or photos

    So it seems strange that the jury believed there was proof beyond reasonable doubt that Johnson touched her sexually but not enough evidence to prove that she gave him oral sex.

    Obviously i wasn’t at the trial, maybe her testimony was more convincing in some parts than others, I was just wondering whether anyone knew more about it…..

    • My understanding is he pled guilty to two counts of sexual activity with her. However I wonder how many sex offenders who prey on 15 year old girls do so in plain sight with witnesses or do they skulk around car parks and exchange around 800 plus text (Whatsapp) messages with them that they instruct them to delete.

      • I’m not trying to defend the guy, just trying to understand how a jury could find him guilty of sexually touching a girl (vaginal insertion) but not guilty of having the girl perform oral sex on him.

        Are they saying that they believe the girl when she claims she was touched sexually but that they think she is lying when she says she gave Johnson oral sex?

        Or was there other evidence that supported the former charge but not the latter? Although I can’t imagine what that evidence would be…….

        Either way, I’m not trying to defend him, just wondering how the jury came to that decision.

        • Short answer is – we don’t know, we weren’t there. Plenty of reasons why the jury may have been sure about one thing, but not another (Not Guilty doesn’t mean the jury thought she was lying – just they weren’t sure).

          • Can you think of any possible reasons why they would be sure beyond doubt of her claim that she was sexually touched, but not sure beyond reasonable doubt of her claim that she performed oral sex?

            It can’t be because she was mistaken, as you can’t really accidentally be mistaken about such a detail.

            I presume it can’t be because they think she is lying either, as it would surely be wrong to trust the testimony in one area of someone who you believe has lied in another area.

            So what could it be?

            genuine question, not trying to defend the guy, he’s obviously pretty messed up….

  4. The ex girlfriend gave evidence relating to the style of trim applied to the defendants pubic hair last week. Her testimony was different to the descriptions given by the victim so our could be they judged this discrepancy as significant. This may have been a factor, more believable evidence for one charge, not there for the other.

  5. Seeing as he is not some violent street rapist type, and the girl (although yes under age) clearly freely engaged with him, and “consented” (I will use that world lightly though), and also by the fact that she is over 13, I think the current charge of encouraging/inciting a child, is the suitable charge, compared to rape. Like the guidelines already say, i’d say he will probably get around 7 years. I’d say 5 years for the main sex charge, and then 2 years to run concurrently for the grooming. Although give or take a year or two for in the case of previous/other offences or the type of judge that is sentencing him.

    I’m certain he will not still be in prison by 2020.

  6. I’m not sure how much research has been done on the phenomenon, but it is widely observed that juries do this. Perhaps they feel happier if they ‘balance’ their verdicts somehow?

    It may also be that the evidence relating to whether or not his pubic hair was shaved (widely reported in the press, so I won’t go into it!) would cause a jury to find him not guilty of the oral sex charge, but guilty of the other offence.

    • Interesting observation and I’ve often wondered about that phenomenon – I suspect it’s a vague feeling of not really knowing who’s telling the truth so not wanting to come down 100% on either person’s side. Though probably his pubic hair helped him out a bit too! (Good grief…)

      I think a similar phenomenon occurred in the infamous Ched Evans case, where the jury decided to find one defendant guilty and the other not guilty for essentially the same offence on the same evidence. They didn’t want to come down wholly on the defence’s side or wholly on the prosecution’s side so they settled on one of each, and chose Evans for the guilty verdict because the other guy behaved (arguably) a little bit better.

      • It also reminds me of the Ched Evans case……

        I think in cases like this, the jury can be pressured to give a guilty verdict because the guy is obviously a bit of a scum bag

        But that isn’t really the way things are meant to work

  7. It seems strange to me because ultimately he has been found guilty based on the testimony of the victim, but the jury has only decided to believe the victim’s testimony in one case but not the other – surely ‘believe’ is the correct word here? How could the jury believe she is simply ‘mistaken’?

    I can see how that can work with identification (eg a witness picks out two guys from a line-up but the jury have reason to believe she is mistaken in one of the cases). But how can it work in this case?

  8. Isn’t there an element of “double counting” in increasing the sentence on the sexual touching because of “grooming” and then sentencing seperately (consecutively??)On the grooming charge ?

      • More and more I’m totally confused by our justice system, it’s seems to be incredibly random

        Another comparison you could do is the (30 years before parole) life in imprisonment sentence Ian Watkins received for conspiring to rape, but not actually raping, a baby and the mother of Baby P, who only spent four years in prison, despite torturing and killing a toddler

  9. When they went on to tell the jury that he googled the age of consent… what sort of “evidence” is that? I hear it more and more being used in court, as if it would have made a difference whether he knew it or not. Google searches have become an extention of our thoughts. To bring them up in a case is one step away from thought police (in a retroactive kind of way). I’d like to think I should be able to read anything I want on a lawful internet page without it being used against me. To me it sounds like, since there is no hard or direct evidence, let’s try and paint a picture of the defendant that makes the jury think he’s guilty. Next they will start saying he “acted dodgy” or looked “a bit rapey” ???
    A bit like the landlord in the Joanna Yates case.. he was already guilty on trial by media.. what if he had been googling murder weapons for any sort of reason?