Northern Ireland news

Ulster Rugby head 'shocked' by messages read out during rape trial

Stuart Olding (left) and Paddy Jackson have been sacked by Ulster Rugby. File picture by Alan Lewis, Photopress
Lesley-Anne McKeown, Press Association

THE head of Ulster Rugby has said he was shocked by lewd messages between some of his players during the recent rape trial.

Shane Logan was speaking publicly yesterday for the first time since the marathon case ended last month.

Former Ulster players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were acquitted of raping a student at a house party in 2016.

However, there was a public backlash over a series of sexually explicit WhatsApp messages involving the players and friends that emerged during the case.

Following an internal review into their conduct, employers Ulster Rugby and the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) announced at the weekend they had ended the players' contracts with immediate effect.

Mr Logan said the details which emerged during the trial had stunned the club.

"I think we were all shocked because I don't think what subsequently emerged was in line with what we knew of them or indeed how we expect any of us to behave," he said.

"We waited quite deliberately with the IRFU before trying to adjudicate or weigh the facts and what had happened post trial.

"The IRFU's management committee unanimously made a recommendation to revoke the players' contracts.

"I think I would concur with the statements of the two players, on a couple of occasions, that they were way below the standards expected of role models. That sums up how we all feel about it.

"It was way short of acceptable."

Mr Logan told UTV the trial and subsequent fall-out had been "traumatic" for players, staff and supporters.

He denied the players' behaviour was a reflection of a wider toxic culture within the game.

"In my experience the culture is actually very healthy and very good," he said. "A couple of players made serious errors of judgement."

He insisted money did not drive the decision to sack the players. And he rejected criticism that Jackson and Olding had been effectively hung out to dry by their club and country.

Mr Logan, who has refused to quit his position as chief executive, said he believed both men had made a "serious mistake" but he hoped they would have success elsewhere.

"I hope that they will learn from that and I hope they fulfil their potential going forward," he said.

Jackson (26), and his 25-year-old team mate Olding were found not guilty of raping the same woman in June 2016.

Jackson was also unanimously acquitted of sexual assault.

Mr Logan said he did not believe they would ever play for Ireland or Ulster again.

Last week, one of Ulster Rugby's major sponsors, Bank of Ireland, said it had contacted the club with concerns over "serious behaviour and conduct issues" arising from the rape trial.

Mr Logan yesterday rejected claims that the IRFU had caved into a social media campaign or that the decision was motivated by concerns about money.

"No sponsor including Bank of Ireland drove the decision," he said.

"We have taken on board everybody's views right across society, right across our supporter group, our sponsor group, our players, clubs, volunteers, we are part of society.

"But at the end of the day, having looked at all those things, the decision was based on alignment with what it is we stand for in particular the value of respect.

"The players themselves admitted in their own statements that they were way short of what was expected of them."

Both Olding and Jackson have expressed regret that their future no longer lies with Ulster.

Mr Logan said the morale in the team, which has been struggling this season, had taken a battering.

However he insisted his position at the top was not under threat.

"My role isn't in question," he said.

"My role here, in very traumatic circumstances, is to do at least two things.

"One, is to ensure that the existing reinforcement programmes that players receive and people across rugby receive are as effective as possible.

"The second thing we have to do is try and recognise that people have very different points of view and to try to find positive territory, a unified approach to move forward.

"We are going to put the decision behind us and move on.

"There is no question that all of us have been significantly affected by the charges and the staff.

"I think the players and the staff and wider rugby has done well to do as well as they have done in very difficult circumstances.

"We have got to focus on finishing the season as strongly as possible."

Mr Logan added: "We expect our players to behave as role models and the two players have admitted they didn't and that was the basis primarily on which the decision was taken.

"There has been huge coverage, a massive range of opinions expressed but at the end of the day we in Irish rugby have to take the right decision for the good of the team at all levels.

"The overwhelming sentiment is one of sadness.

"It has been extremely difficult and traumatic for everybody involved in the case.

"There are absolutely no winners but our role is to try and set the right course for the future.

"The decision is made and we have got to manage the future now."

Meanwhile Mr Logan also declined to comment on speculation about any financial settlements reached with the two players.

"That like any relationship between employer and employee is not something that is in the public domain," he said.

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