Northern Ireland news

Rugby rape trial: Stuart Olding faces major battle to return to pinnacle of his sport

Stuart Olding leaves court in Belfast after the not guilty verdicts. Picture by Hugh Russell 
Lesley-Anne McKeown, Press Association

Stuart Olding turned 25 as his high-profile trial entered its seventh week.

Undoubtedly the occasion was overshadowed by the arduous legal battle to clear his name.

But now, having been found not guilty of rape, the rugby star can celebrate the birthday and returning to the life which was put on hold for almost two years.

Despite having four Ireland caps and being a regular in Ulster's starting line-up, he is less well known outside the rugby fraternity than his red-haired friend, Paddy Jackson.

Indeed several witnesses, including three of the women who attended the house party where the rape had been alleged to have happened on June 28, 2016, said they recognised Paddy Jackson but had not heard of Olding.

Born in Belfast, he is the youngest of three brothers.

He is single and lives alone within earshot of the famous "Ravenhill roar" and was single at the time of the alleged attack.

Olding attended the £4,000 a year Ben Madigan Preparatory School in north Belfast before transferring to Belfast Royal Academy where his close peer network of "six girls and six guys" included the British and Irish Lions star Iain Henderson.

He left school with GCSEs and three A-level qualifications in Business Studies, RE and PE and went on to study sports science at Ulster University.

However his degree was deferred after a year-and-a-half because of rugby commitments.

Olding started playing mini rugby when he was just eight.

Read More

Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding found not guilty of rape
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Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding 'will continue to be relieved of all duties' as review takes place
Paddy Jackson had unwavering support from his parents
Stuart Olding: I deeply regret events of that evening... I am sorry for the hurt caused to the complainant
Not guilty Blane McIlroy admitted being prone to exaggeration
Video: Paddy Jackson thanks judge and jury for fair trial
Public Prosecution Service: 'Ultimately right' rugby rape case was brought to trial
'Wonderful' Rory Harrison had been working in Australia before he flew home to stand trial

 

As well as playing for his school teams, he represented Ulster and Ireland at under-18 level.

Like Jackson, he was invited to attend the Ulster Rugby Academy a few weeks after leaving school.

He impressed bosses at the Kingspan Stadium and quickly rose up the ranks from the academy and preparatory squads before making his Ulster senior debut on Boxing Day in 2011, aged 18.

His senior international debut came two years later in the summer of 2013 when he was selected for the Irish tour of the USA and Canada.

His rugby profile describes a "silky runner with an astute kicking game and fine rugby brain".

Others have described him as clever, funny, good-humoured and popular.

However his career has been blighted by a number of serious injuries including ligament tears in his knee and elbow which required separate surgeries and significant stints in rehab.

Despite the setbacks, Olding returned to the field for the 2015/16 season and was again selected for the Irish squad on the South African tour in 2016, returning home just a day before the alleged rape.

"I was pleased, with the amount of rugby I had missed because of injuries I was delighted to be, still on the fringes, but making a name for myself. I was in a good place in my life," he told the trial.

Olding and Jackson became close friends through rugby.

They socialised and holidayed together and were frequent visitors to each other's homes.

Olding is also an avid user of social media. He has more than 7,000 Twitter followers and thousands more Facebook fans to whom he promotes flash cars and a privileged lifestyle.

But while he has lent his name to a variety of good causes, he may be forever haunted by the now infamous WhatsApp messages in which he wrote: "We are all top shaggers" and "There was a lot of spitroasting going on last night fellas".

Giving evidence in his defence Olding described the messages as immature bragging.

He said: "I am certainly not proud talking like that.

"But I did it, I have done it and I shouldn't have done it."

Throughout the lengthy trial he showed very little emotion, indeed Olding barely flinched when, at one point, the complainant described him as "monkeyish" and imbecellic.

He was granted legal aid from the fifth week of the trial having funding the earlier costs himself and with the help of friends and family.

While Jackson arrived at court flanked by his family every day, Stuart Olding faced the cameras alone.

On occasions he was accompanied solicitor Joe Rice, who had been sent by Ulster Rugby to give representation when he was first arrested on June 30, 2016.

There was, however, family support inside the court.

Olding has already overcome serious injury to fight his way back to fitness.

Now, with his name cleared and leaving court a free man, he faces yet another major battle - to return to the pinnacle of his sport.

Outside the court today, Stuart Olding said via his solictior that he deeply regreted what happened in Paddy Jackson's house and he is "sorry for the hurt caused to the complainant".

Solicitor Paul Dougan, who read out a statement written by Olding after he was acquitted of raping a young woman, said: "I want to acknowledge publicly that though I committed no criminal offence on the evening of the 28th of June 2016, I regret deeply the events of that evening."

(l-r) Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison pictured arriving at Belfast Crown Court this morning. Photos: Hugh Russell 

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