Northern Ireland news

Rory Best 'called as a character witness' in rape trial

Ulster Rugby's Rory Best (right) and Ian Henderson attended Belfast Crown Court last week. Picture by Pacemaker

ULSTER and Ireland rugby captain Rory Best says he attended the trial of two teammates facing rape charges because he has been called as a character witness.

Best, who led the Irish team to victory against France in the Six Nations tournament on Saturday, was at Belfast Crown Court last Wednesday where Stuart Olding (24) and Paddy Jackson (26) are standing trial.

The Ireland and Ulster rugby players are accused of raping the same woman at a property in south Belfast in June 2016.

Jackson, of Oakleigh Park in Belfast, is also charged with sexual assault and both he and Olding, of Ardenlee Street, deny the charges.

Blane McIlroy (26), of Royal Lodge Road in Belfast, also denies one count of exposure and Rory Harrison (25), from Manse Road in the city, denies perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

Speaking at a press conference after Saturday's match in Paris, Best was asked if the Irish Rugby Football Union had given him permission to attend the trial.

He told reporters: "We sign out on Tuesday night, Wednesday is our day off, so technically we don't need permission to do stuff on our own time.

"The reason I was there, it's on the record I've been called as a character witness.

"I was advised it was important to attend, so I got both sides of the story.

"Because it's an ongoing legal matter, I will make no further comment than that."

Fellow Ulster players Iain Henderson, Craig Gilroy and Kyle McCall were also seen at the court last week.

When contacted on Friday, both Ulster Rugby and the IRFU said that "any person attending the trial does so in a personal capacity".

"Aside from that, we must respect the primacy and importance of the on-going trial and to do so we must ensure that we provide no information, or comment, that could either directly or indirectly impact upon it."

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