Northern Ireland news

Newspaper editorials dedicated to the high-profile trial of rugby players

The high-profile case came to a conclusion on Tuesday. Pictured Ulster and Ireland rugby player Paddy Jackson leaving Belfast Crown Court. Picture by Mal McCann

ALONGSIDE numerous pages of coverage of the acquittals of rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, unsuprisingly most newspaper editorials were also dedicated to the high-profile trial.

Most publications drew on the issues surrounding the social media coverage of the case.

The headline of the Belfast Telegraph's leading article summed up its concerns, stating that the "kangaroo court of social media must be brought to heel".

It reflected on how "comment on social media, particularly Twitter, was unrestrained and created a toxic environment" during the trial.

"The all-pervading nature of social media obviously poses an immense challenge to those engaged in the justice system and their efforts to ensure the integrity of the legal process," it said.

"Quite what can be done is a question which will tax the minds of many in the future."

The Daily Mirror said it believed the "trial was a test of our times" in its editorial and said the case had "illicited some strident viewpoints".

It highlighted the issues surrounding how the case was played out in the "public glare", with social media users freely commenting on the twists and turns of the case.

"For such intimate, even sordid, details of his sexual encounter to be shared with the world made for uncomfortable reading," it said.

"And few judicial pursuits before have been conducted in the public glare that the Ulster Rugby trial was. That public glare was characterised at times with commentary, mostly on social media, which was at best rash."

The Irish Times said the nine-week trial had highlighted it was a "system in need of change".

It said the trial "underlined the wider structural flaws that contribute to such a low rate of reporting of sexual offences".

The newspaper also highlighted the difference between the judicial systems on both sides of the border, including how members of the public are not allowed into courtrooms of such cases in the Republic.

"Any trial process must vindicate the rights of the complainant and the accused," it stated.

The Irish Daily Mail also concentrated on the social media element related to the trial in its editorial, asking readers, "whatever happened to basic morality?".

It said "there has been much criticism, particularly on social media, of the verdict", but it was "not for us to second-guess why the jury found as it did".

The leader also looked at the behaviour of the four defendants in relation to the "private messages to each other".

"These men showed no regard for any of the women they discussed and their attitudes to sex and alcohol illustrates a culture of excess, completely absent of what used to be a key attribute for those in the public eye - propriety," it said.

The Irish Independent leader concluded: "It this is what young men aspire to, then we have a problem - but if it is what young women can expect to experience should they find themselves at the centre of an alleged rape, we may have an even graver one."

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