On March 24 Adam Johnson will be sentenced after being found guilty of sexual activity with a child. We’re being told he’s looking at four to 10 years.
Before we go any further I’d just like to point out this isn’t a sympathy or apologist piece but I do feel that kind of time inside seems disproportionate when compared with other cases.
Should he go to prison? Maybe or maybe not, that’s not for me to say. He should certainly be punished beyond having his career taken away, because that would happen to almost all of us in similar circumstances. However, I’m not sure all of us would have a potential 10 year stretch ahead of us had we been found guilty of similar crimes, actually I know for a fact we wouldn’t. Before sports writing I went to a few court cases as part of the press and it is amazing how many sex offenders come through. One of the first hearings I ever saw was a man who had been caught masturbating in front of three young girls, and I mean under 10 but I can’t recall specific ages now. He got a suspended sentence and was placed on the sex offenders register – I remember that detail because I was genuinely shocked, and it wasn’t his first time in the dock for similar offences either.
That was a while ago, longer than I care to remember, and times have changed. But still the time frame Johnson is looking at needs questioning. Here’s why.
Recently a man by the name of James Smith, 32, has been jailed for three years for befriending single mothers in order to abuse their kids. 34-year-old Mark Caudery from Birmingham got three years for grooming a girl, 14, in a chat room and then meeting her for sex, the chat room was for people with depression and she’d lost her father. I could go on and on with this, bringing up numerous examples but these two will suffice. These are the kind of people I want jailed for a decade, maybe more, but nope – they’ll be out in maybe two years, while Adam Johnson will almost count himself lucky on March 24 if he gets four.
You may think four to 10 years isn’t enough for the disgraced 12-cap England international but if that’s the case then you’ll agree the likes of Smith and Caudery should be locked away for much longer. Remember Jeremy Forrest, the teacher who had an affair with a pupil and took her to France? Apparently he ended up serving three-and-a-half years. The media took an almost sympathetic view of him at times, but when you consider what he actually did it was a massive abuse of power and trust which culminated in what was essentially a kidnap (technically ‘abduction’, to-may-toe, to-ma-toe), regardless of how willing the victim was. Johnson, meanwhile, has had a rougher ride. Some newspapers have even clubbed him in with the likes of Levi Bellfield and Ian Huntley. Any rationally minded person should realise such a comparison is wholly unreasonable, both for the disgraced ex-footballer and for the victims of those infamous monsters.
And that’s what bothers me most; trial by media and Twitter. As a person of note, Johnson’s case understandably drew a lot of attention and that undoubtedly has had a big impact on how much time he’s going to spend at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. This doesn’t sit well with me; sentencing should be the same across the board regardless of where you’re from or what you’ve achieved. Mitigating circumstances are all well and good but ‘they’re famous double the sentence’ or whatever is not what I’d call justice. Perhaps four years right the way up to 10 for Johnson would be a fair sentence but if that’s the case others are getting off far too lightly. The law should treat everyone equally, maybe I’m just an idealist but there you go. I’m not trying to suggest he should avoid prison or even that he shouldn’t be jailed for a significant length of time, but by concentrating on the high-profile offenders, rather than the worst, justice is simply not being served. When you break it down, the taxpayer will fork out to keep him locked up for longer when others, with a potentially higher risk of re-offending, are serving shorter terms.
Needless to say he’s picked the worst moment in history to be a celebrity sex offender, the failure to get anything on Jimmy Savile has made sure of that. If there is any lingering confusion, I’ll again point out this is in no way a defence of Johnson, quite clearly he’s a despicable human being. His partner is pregnant with his child and he’s sneaking around with a teenager – abhorrent behaviour. But even the lower end of his impending prison sentence seems harsh, or at least unconventional, for what he’s done in strictly criminal terms; any moral issues have to be put to one side – being a cheat comes with no specific legal consequences outside of a divorce court.
*I found this pretty tough to write as I have no sympathy for Johnson as an individual, he’s committed a serious crime and must now accept the consequences. However, if he is handed a lengthy term and other, undeniably worse, offenders are being given what amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist the system is failing all of us and there are certain irregularities I felt needed highlighting that the mainstream press have ignored.
**Update: On further reflection I don’t really stand by this any more but have decided to leave it online anyway.
‘Adam Johnson to be sentenced…’ via The Guardian.
James Smith via the Daily Record
Mark Caudery via ITV
Jeremy Forrest via The Mirror