The trial and sentencing of former Sunderland football player Adam Johnson at Bradford Crown Court – A student’s view

By | March 24, 2016

Adam Johnson has received a six year custodial sentence, as Judge Jonathan Rose explains: “Your standing and your offending are the only reason that this child has suffered abuse far beyond what would normally be expected in a case such as this. I am satisfied that the girl suffered serious psychological harm. The only reason you were able to carry out your offending was because you were at the time a successful footballer for Sunderland. You had every opportunity to enter guilty pleas. All of this is entirely your own responsibility and fault.”

Students on the MSc Forensic Archaeology and Crime Scene Investigation at the University of Bradford study Law modules covering the English Legal System, Basic Criminal Law and the Law of Evidence as part of their postgraduate degree.

During their studies some of them took the opportunity to watch the trial of former Sunderland footballer Adam Johnson which was held at Bradford Crown Court.

Bradford_Law_Courts WIKI

Here are the observations of MSc Forensic Archaeology and Crime Scene Investigation student Allan Dawkins, with Saima Khan

23rd February 2016: Attended Court 6 at Bradford Crown Court to check in on the Adam Johnson case. Johnson is giving evidence this week, but as he has admitted the two lesser offences (one of grooming and one charge of sexual activity with a child), I cannot see him escaping a custodial sentence. The testimony of the young girl was harrowing. Will try and get down tomorrow. The trial starts at 10am; lunch is usually between 1 and 2pm; Judge presiding is circuit Judge Jonathan Rose.

29th February 2016: After the Law of Evidence lecture and workshop today, I went down to Bradford Crown Court for the afternoon session, at which Judge Rose was summing up for the jury. After summing up for the Prosecution he turned to the Defence case, and spent some considerable time on expert witness evidence (two mobile forensics experts), regarding the content of the examined mobile phones. Judge Rose said exactly what we had been told in class: that the burden of proof lies with the Prosecution; the defendant does not need to proffer any evidence of innocence.

He ended proceedings at 4.18pm, stating that soon the jury would have to decide the defendant’s guilt (or not) regarding the two more serious offences of sexual activity with a child (sexual touching, and that she had performed a sex act on him) with which he was charged. Judge Rose promised that after more summing up tomorrow morning, the jury would be ‘out’.

2nd March 2016: Big day today in the Johnson case. After summing up, Judge Rose sent the jury out at the beginning of the afternoon session on Tuesday 1st March; after three and a half hours’ deliberation, the jury was sent home to reconvene at 10am the next day.

He has stated that nothing less than a unanimous verdict is acceptable and if they haven’t made up their minds after three and a half hours’ deliberation, then there must be an element of doubt in the jury’s minds, which could work in Johnson’s favour.

The prosecution witnesses’ case was not overwhelmingly convincing. The defence tried to argue the young girl may have been less than truthful, that she was prone to fantasy.

My prediction: Guilty of the lesser charges (grooming and two counts of sexual activity with a child including sexual touching); and not guilty on the more serious charge of sexual activity with a child. There is a high probability of a custodial sentence for the defendant.

3rd March 2016: Defendant found guilty on Count 1, not guilty on Count 2. The jury reconvened after nine hours and 10 minutes when they managed a not guilty verdict on count 2, but were not unanimous on charge of count 1. Judge Rose sent them out requesting that if they agreed on a 10 – 2 majority, he would allow a verdict in court. Court reconvened at 4.16pm and the court was told ‘guilty’ on count 1, by a majority of 10-2. All in all, they were out for nine hours and 42 minutes.

Judge Rose told the defendant to  expect “a significant custodial sentence”. He was prepared to send him home to say “goodbye” to his family, but was looking at a five to ten year custodial sentence. Bailed to put his affairs in order and will return for sentencing in three weeks.

It was moving and saddening to see the defendant’s family outside the courtroom after the verdict; his girlfriend being comforted by his immediate family, yet no-one seemed to notice.
Only two people know exactly what occurred in the vehicle, the defendant and the young girl.

Grooming is an offence under section 15 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The maximum sentence on indictment (when tried in the Crown Court) is a custodial sentence of ten years but the starting point can be 18 months. Sexual activity with a child (sexual touching) under section 9 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, carries a sentence between four and ten years. If penetration is involved, there is usually a minimum sentencing of five years.

The judge will now have to consider the effect of any aggravating and mitigating factors, and what value he places on the partial guilty plea (https://www.sentencingcouncil.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Final_Sexual_Offences_Definitive_Guideline_content_web1.pdf).

Points of interest to us as students include:

  1. The judge’s direction on points of law i.e. when defence was asking leading questions to elicit information from unfavourable witnesses during examination in chief.
  2. Court protocol: Judge’s entrance and exit (‘All stand!’).
  3. Judge’s sensitive handling of minor witnesses: “Take your time,” he said. Adjournments for witnesses under stress or in distress.
  4. Judge’s flexibility in a court of law (initial instruction of 12 – 0 majority needed was changed to acceptance of a 10 – 2 majority when jurors failed to agree.
  5. Evidence of expert witnesses read out in court – not necessary for them to attend in person.
  6. If things are not scientifically proven then surely the jury must acquit of more serious charges.

Sentencing: Adam Johnson was sentenced to six years in prison today, Thursday, 24th March 2016.

About Allan Dawkins

Allan Dawkins is studying for an MSc in Forensic Archaeology and Crime Scene Investigation at the University of Bradford. He attended Bradford Crown Court for the trial of footballer Adam Johnson. Fellow student Saima Khan helped write the report of the proceedings.