Northern Ireland news

Ulster Rugby barred news reporters from its first press conference as players express `sadness' at departure of Jackson and Olding

The home of Ulster Rugby was closed to news reporters yesterday

ULSTER Rugby barred news reporters from its first press conference since the termination of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding's contracts over a series of offensive and sexually explicit messages.

The province, which has refused to respond to any questions or interview requests from The Irish News, restricted attendance to sports reporters only.

A spokesman for Ulster Rugby told Press Association: "The attendance of non-sport journalists at recent match week media events has caused significant disruption to regular attendees, who have been negatively impacted to the extent that they have been unable to access sufficient information and content for the days leading up to that week's game."

On behalf of players, vice captain Rob Herring made a statement expressing "sadness" at the decision taken by the IRFU and Ulster Rugby following a joint review of the players conduct.

A third player, Craig Gilroy, who participated in the WhatsApp exchange is currently suspended.

"It is with a great deal of sadness that the players and pro staff learned of this outcome," Herring said.

"We know that the two boys will be successful both on and off the pitch wherever they go.

"As a group we have to move on and our full focus is now on Glasgow this weekend."

Yesterday, Olding's defence solicitor Joe Rice, called for an immediate review of "all rape and sexual assault cases currently awaiting trial".

He was speaking after it emerged that senior judges are considering steps to reform the way sexual violence cases are handled by the courts.

Discussions at the highest level of the judiciary were initiated by the Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan following the trial.

Olding and Jackson were fond not guilty of rape last month following a nine-week trial.

Jackson was acquitted of a further charge of sexual assault.

Mr Rice said he welcomed Sir Declan's announcement but "also take a wider view that all rape and serious sexual assault cases currently awaiting trial should now be reviewed in Northern Ireland", in line with a similar review in England and Wales.

The veteran solicitor said the review must extend to "the work of the PSNI and its Sexual Crimes Unit... (and) how our Public Prosecution Service deals with and reviews the evidence that it is provided with by investigating police".

"Defence solicitors have genuine concerns that police and prosecutors may not have the necessary systems or resources to get to grips with the way they handle evidence and especially electronic evidence," he said.

"Those concerns include issues that potential key information taken from mobile phones, computers and social media is not being properly interrogated nor any of this is kept under sufficient review by police and prosecutors."

Mr Rice called for an "improvement plan to tackle these new 21st century societal developments".

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