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Ulster Rugby sponsor Bank of Ireland raises `serious concerns' over behaviour and conduct issues raised by rape trial

Paddy Jackson. Picture by Pacemaker

A SECOND major sponsor of Ulster Rugby has contacted the club with concerns over "serious behaviour and conduct issues" arising out of the rape trial involving Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

Bank of Ireland, who had previously told the Irish News it "will not be making any comment on this matter at this time", came out yesterday to state its disquiet over the revelations which emerged during the rape trial.

It follows another major sponsor, BT, which said recently that it is monitoring the outcome of the internal conduct review being carried out by the club.

The two Ulster and Ireland players were acquitted of rape and Paddy Jackson of a further charge of sexual assault following a nine week trial at Belfast Crown Court.

Thousands of protestors have staged rallies in cities and towns across Ireland demanding reform of the justice system in dealing with sex offence cases, with another is planned for tonight at Kingspan Stadium for Ulster Rugby's first home game since the trial ended.

There has been widespread disgust expressed at the tone of WhatsApp messages about young women exchanged between the two defendants and a third Ulster Rugby player Craig Gilroy.

"As a sponsor of Ulster Rugby, Bank of Ireland is highly concerned regarding the serious behaviour and conduct issues which have emerged as a result of the recent high profile trial," a spokeswoman said.

"The bank has formally conveyed these concerns to the CEO of Ulster Rugby.

"It is of paramount importance to Bank of Ireland that our sponsorship activity aligns with and supports our core values, and reflects positively on Bank of Ireland through association.

"We understand that an internal review is underway. We expect this review to be robust, to fully address the issues raised, and that decisions will be taken – and policies and protocols be put in place - that fully address the issues that have arisen.

"Given that a review is underway, we won't comment further on this issue at this time."

Bank of Ireland has sponsored Ulster Rugby for 20 years and its logo is on the back of the first team shirt.

Meanwhile, details of how blood stains on Jackson's bed sheets were "airbrushed" out of photographs shown to the jury during the trial have emerged after the media successfully fought a reporting ban on the case.

During the third week of the trial the jury was sent out while the legal teams and the judge discussed how the pictures were going to be presented.

Some of the blood found on Jackson's duvet was connected to the complainant, but other blood, also present, was unrelated to the trial.

The court never heard what the source of this blood was, with Jackson's barrister saying he had "no intention of saying where this blood came from".

Judge Patricia Smyth suggested the possibility of "airbrushing" the blood marks out of the photograph and both defence and the prosecution agreed.

Barristers acting for Mr Jackson and Mr Olding also complained about the judge's tone and delivery in her legal direction to the jury on day 40 of the trial.

Brendan Kelly QC, for Mr Jackson, told Judge Smyth it was with a "heavy heart" that he raised his concerns that there was a "tone and sympathy" when outlining the complainant's evidence which was not present when dealing with the defendants' cases.

Frank O'Donoghue QC, for Mr Olding, said there was "a difficulty in intonation" and that the judge "sometimes nodded her head" when outlining the complainant's evidence.

Judge Smyth said she had adjusted the wording of her direction at the request of legal teams and was being "scrupulously careful".

She said she wanted to say - "for the record and for the press" - that all defence teams had a chance to review her closing remarks and that she had made charges based on their recommendations

"I am studiously anxious to ensure that the points are made," she said.

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