Sunderland's chief executive Margaret Byrne may have fled the country as pressure mounts over her handling of Adam Johnson in the build up to his child abuse trial.
The Guardian claim that Byrne was expected to appear as a defence witness during the trial but failed to take the stand and has not been seen in public since.
Johnson claimed during the trial that he had informed Sunderland officials that he had kissed his 15-year-old accuser during a meeting in his Range Rover in January last year.
If true, it means the Black Cats knew he was guilty of sexual contact with a child and allowed him to continue playing for the club regardless.
Sunderland have officially denied Johnson's claim, saying they fully expected him to plead not guilty to all charges. Johnson pleaded guilty to one charge of child grooming, another relating to the kiss but denied two more serious charges. He has since been acquitted of one and found guilty of the other.
The 28-year-old was sacked from his £60,000-a-week contract 24 hours after he pleaded guilty, but the club have been criticised for allowing him to return to first team action just 16 days after his original arrest on March 18 last year.
There was evidence to suggest that Byrne, a former criminal lawyer, had copies of Johnson's original police interview, where he admitted kissing the girl.
Fled to Portugal
A Durham police detective is believed to have asked the club for Byrne's whereabouts. They reportedly told them that she was staying in a villa in Portugal.
The Guardian attempted to contact her in her Sunderland home on Friday but she was not there. She was also not at Saturday's game against Southampton. A spokesman for Sunderland AFC told the paper: “There will be no further comment at the present time.”
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