Northern Ireland news

Jay Donnelly handed reduced three-month jail term on appeal after sharing indecent photo of 16-year-old girl

Cliftonville FC striker Jay Donnelly
Digital staff

Irish League footballer Jay Donnelly has been jailed for sharing an indecent image of a child, after a judge reduced his sentence from four months to three. 

Cliftonville striker Donnelly (23), of Ardilea Drive in north Belfast, admitted the charge last November at Belfast Magistrates' Court.

He later issued an apology to the girl.

Family and friends wept in the public gallery of Belfast County Court today as Judge David McFarland ordered Donnelly to be taken down to the cells ahead of transport to prison.

He had been on bail pending the outcome of the appeal against his original sentence.

Judge McFarland said a custodial sentence was appropriate, insisting the need for the case to act as a "deterrent" to others.

In June 2016, Donnelly took a photograph of himself having sex with a 16-year-old girl who was wearing a Cliftonville shirt with his name and number on the back.

He shared the image with a friend and with a number of fellow players on the messaging service WhatsApp. It was later leaked on social media.

Judge McFarland said the incident had had a deep and lasting impact on the victim.

He said Donnelly had treated the girl as a "sexual conquest or trophy" and had taken and shared the picture to "boast about his sexual exploits to friends".

The judge noted that the image would be online forever.

"It remains forever on the worldwide web, it's incapable of deletion," he said.

Judge McFarland said the picture content fell into the most serious category of indecent images of children.

He said aggravating factors in the case were the impact on the child and the fact Donnelly created the image himself.

In mitigation, the judge factored in Donnelly's previously clear record, his remorse, his age, the degree of verbal abuse he had suffered and the fact he pleaded guilty.

"You created the image and were responsible for distributing to wider group and, indirectly through that group, on to the worldwide web," he told Donnelly.

Donnelly showed no emotion as he was told he was going to jail.

The striker was placed in handcuffs as he was taken from the dock.

One supporter called out "we love you Jay" was he was led away by court guards.

Speaking after today's hearing, Cliftonville said it had "noted" the sentence.

"The Club’s Management Committee will now take cognisance of the final judgment, related matters, the input of relevant bodies and will follow the required Club disciplinary procedures," it said.

"We wish to reiterate, as outlined in previous statements, that Cliftonville FC recognises the impact that this has had on the victim and her family. We condemn such actions without question."

An NSPCC Northern Ireland spokeswoman said: "Sharing indecent images of a child is a serious offence, reflected in the custodial sentence imposed on Donnelly by the court."

“The children in images distributed in this way are victims of crime and the NSPCC is campaigning for more to be done to prevent adults from sharing such material on social media and for providers to do more to remove it from their platforms," she said.

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