Sunderland paid Margaret Byrne, their disgraced former chief executive, a sum in the region of £750,000 last year in exchange for her signing a confidentiality agreement.
Byrne resigned last March after taking responsibility for the gross mishandling of the Adam Johnson child abuse case, with Ellis Short, Sunderland’s owner, sanctioning the payment when his CEO stepped down shortly before the club’s former winger was sentenced to six years in prison for sexual activity with a 15-year-old girl.
Considering that, at the time, the club – currently £140m in debt – indicated that Byrne, who earned around £700,000 a year, would have been sacked had she not fallen on her sword, the £750,000 pay-out seems somewhat excessive.
Byrne would have received some severance pay in any event but sources at the Stadium of Light say that she had been privy to so much sensitive and commercially valuable information that handing over additional money in exchange for her signing the confidentiality clause was unavoidable. They add that such severance deals are routinely issued as standard across a wide range of businesses when senior, highly paid, executives resign and particularly when their exits are prompted by controversial circumstances.
Byrne, a qualified solicitor, admitted a “serious error of judgment” in permitting Johnson to continue playing for Sunderland despite her having learnt that he had groomed and kissed the schoolgirl nine months before the former England winger went on trial in February 2016.
With club officials having given the impression that Johnson would attempt to prove his innocence in court there was widespread shock when he pleaded guilty to grooming and kissing his victim on the opening day of the trial before being found guilty of sexual activity.
In a statement released in the wake of her resignation Byrne said that Short had been aware only of the “broad nature” of the allegations against Johnson and “not the detail I was personally privy to”.
Until now the payment to Byrne, now a football agent, had been kept quiet but is set to feature in the latest set of Sunderland’s accounts which are expected to be made public at the end of this month.
By then the Premier League’s bottom place team could well be relegated to the Championship. All in all it has been a dreadful year at Sunderland where the debts dictate dozens of support staff are facing redundancy.
Meanwhile David Moyes, the manager, is under intense scrutiny after this week’s revelation that he threatened to “slap” the BBC reporter Vicki Sparks when he, mistakenly, believed he was no longer being recorded.
Although Moyes will almost certainly face sanction from the Football Association and be told to attend some form of education course, Sunderland have no intention of sacking the former Everton, Manchester United and Real Sociedad manager.