Durham police have taken action against the ex-partner of Adam Johnson’s sister for allegedly harassing the footballer’s teenage victim on Facebook. Officers issued a harassment warning to Steven Knox, 29, for allegedly posting images of the schoolgirl and claiming that she “bragged and lied”, the Guardian has learned.
Knox, from Sunderland, was warned by police that his social media activity had caused Johnson’s victim a “considerable deal of distress and harassment”. He is the ex-partner of Faye Johnson, the footballer’s sister, who runs a Facebook page in support of her brother with nearly 5,000 followers.
The harassment warning was issued by police on behalf of the victim days before the former England and Sunderland footballer is due to be jailed on Thursday for three child sex offences. The judge, Jonathan Rose, is also understood to have been urged to take strong action against Johnson’s supporters, who have vilified his victim, now 16, since his conviction earlier this month.
Johnson, 29, is facing between five and 10 years in prison after being found guilty at Bradford crown court of one count of sexual activity with a child on 2 March. He admitted kissing and grooming the girl and was cleared of a further child sex offence. It is understood that the support page – Adam Johnson’s Appeal Fight – has been reported to the judge on the basis that it was being used to abuse Johnson’s 15-year-old victim.
Earlier this week, Faye Johnson posted a picture of piles of fan mail – including one seemingly addressed to “Mr Adam Johnson, England” – and the message: “Not only do I receive support online, I also receive a phenomenal amount of letters of support by post daily! I can’t thank everyone enough for your continued support it means a lot.”
A senior legal source said the judge would be expected to take the support page into account when sentencing Johnson, and that “ironically, it may not work in his [Johnson’s] favour”.
Victims of sex offences are entitled to lifelong anonymity under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. Anyone who breaches that provision is liable to prosecution. Police harassment notices serve as a warning that any further incident could result in arrest and prosecution.
In one public post, now deleted, Knox allegedly published pictures of the victim and wrote: “A don’t care if get locked up stand by my beliefs does this look like a girl who scared leave house who that young didn’t no what was happening who bragged and lied who Perseud and prolonged couldn’t give a slightest care in world.”
Knox, from Sunderland, has 3,413 friends on Facebook, all of whom would theoretically have been able to view the post. Asked by the Guardian whether he had any comment about the police harassment notice, Knox said: “No, I don’t want to speak to you.”
A Durham police spokesman said it was an “investigative decision” to issue a police harassment notice instead of pursue criminal action under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. The force has twice warned internet users that identifying Johnson’s victim is a criminal offence – first following his arrest, and then on the eve of his trial.
Nigel Richardson, a leading sexual offences lawyer at law firm Hodge Jones Allen, said the judge would take into account the harm and psychological damage to the victim when sentencing Johnson. He added: “In particular, the fact that by pleading not guilty to two counts, he has put a child through the trauma of a trial. Even though this website was not set up by Adam Johnson, it could be argued that the girl is facing additional psychological damage because of this site that she would not have suffered if Johnson hadn’t committed the crimes he did.
“However, that would be a particularly hardline approach from the judge, which could leave the sentence open to appeal. Therefore I suspect he will concentrate on Johnson’s profile as a role model, the abuse of trust, the disparity of ages, and the victim’s trial ordeal.”
The schoolgirl, now 16, described how she had been left “devastated” by internet abuse in an emotional statement issued after the verdicts. She said: “The gossip on social media and hearing all the horrible names that people have been calling me has been devastating to me, my friends and my family. People were lying about me and what I had said.
“They don’t understand the impact their words can have on someone. Him being found guilty shows everyone I was telling the truth. I hope people can see that everything is not always as it first seems and opinions should only be based on facts and not on rumours.
“The last 12 months have been horrendous and there have been times when I’ve wanted to hide away from the world. There have been times I haven’t felt able to face people.”