Northern Ireland news

Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding found not guilty of rape

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

TWO Ireland and Ulster rugby players have been found not guilty of raping the same woman at a house in Belfast in 2016.

Paddy Jackson (26) from Oakleigh Park in Belfast and his Ireland and Ulster teammate Stuart Olding (25), from Ardenlee Street in the city had been accused of carrying out rape at Jackson's house in south Belfast on June 28 2016.

Jackson was also acquitted of a further charge of sexual assault.

Two other men were also on trial on charges connected to the alleged incident.

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Blane McIlroy (26) from Royal Lodge Road, Belfast was found not guilty of exposure while Rory Harrison (25), from Manse Road, was acquitted of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

 Paddy Jackson arriving at court this morning. Picture by Hugh Russell

Speaking outside Belfast Crown Court after today's verdict, Paddy Jackson said: "I'd just like to thank the judge and the jury for giving me a fair trial, my parents for being here every day, as well as my brother and sisters."

Jackson also thanked his barristers and solicitors.

"Out of respect for my employers I've nothing further to comment," he said.

Paddy Jackson speaking outside court after being acquitted. Picture by Niall Carson, PA 

Jackson's solicitor Joe McVeigh said: "We've this to say on behalf of our client Patrick Jackson. We're grateful to the jury for reaching what was a common sense verdict of not guilty on all counts.

"Paddy has been consistent in his denials and in his account. Consistency had never been a feature of the complainant's evidence, long before she entered the witness box.

"So these acquittals should come as no surprise to anyone.

"Paddy leaves court for the last time today as he entered almost 10 weeks ago - an innocent man.

"The prosecution made much of the perceived privileged position provided by virtue of Paddy being an international rugby player.

"We say that it was this very status as a famous sportsman that drove the decision to prosecute in the first place.

"Much has been said in the course of this trial by way of criticism of the police investigation.

"We've little to add to what's already been said, but it's our belief that the investigation has been characterised by the turning of a blind eye to inadequacies in the evidence of the complainant combined with very apparent investigative bias.

"Paddy and his parents have paid a heavy price - personally, professionally and financially.

"This price was paid despite the fact that he has never been anything other than entirely innocent.

"On the face of it, this robust assertion of its independence by the jury embodied in these acquittals, for all four men, may suggest that the trial process is in good health.

"That is not the case. Vile commentary expressed on social media going well beyond fair comment has polluted the sphere of public discourse and raised real concerns about the integrity of the trial process.

"To that end we want to thank the learned trial Judge Patricia Smyth for her management of this trial in the face of an onslaught of toxic contempt, particularly on Twitter.

"Several days of this trial were lost due to problems thrown up by the intrusive infection of the process by social media.

"All the lawyers have been distracted by having to man the barriers against the flood of misinformed, misconceived and malicious content on the internet, particularly during the last phase of this trial, and worryingly even at the hands of public servants who should have known better.

"There's no reason to believe that this problem will not worsen. To that end we invite the office of the Lord Chief Justice, the Attorney General, and the Public Prosecution Service, to enter into fresh discussions with us to look at more robust mechanisms that can strike an effective balance between everyone's rights, but that properly secure the integrity of our criminal justice system.

"As for Paddy, his main priority now is to return to work, that means getting back on the rugby pitch, and representing his province and his country."

The eight men and three women were sent out to start their deliberations at 12.40pm yesterday.

It took the jury three hours and 40 minutes following the marathon nine-week trial, to unanimously acquit the four men of any wrongdoing.

All four men stood in the glass dock of courtroom number 12 in the Laganside complex as the verdicts were read out.The judge had earlier warned members of the public not to react.

 Stuart Olding arriving at court this morning. Picture by Hugh Russell

Three defendants Jackson, McIlroy and Harrison were permitted to leave the dock first.

Judge Smyth said: "The jury has found you not guilty. You are free to leave the dock."

Thanking the jurors, Ms Smyth said they would be exempt from jury service for life.

"This has probably been the most difficult trial that any jury in Northern Ireland has ever been asked to adjudicate on."

A short time later the court was told that no evidence had been offered by prosecutors on a charge of vaginal rape against Stuart Olding.

Judge Smyth directed the jury to find him not guilty.

Allowing Olding to go free, the judge said: "Mr Olding the jury has found you not guilty of this count also and you are now free to leave the dock."

The defendants sat side by side in the dock dressed in dark suits.

They appeared relaxed and at times reassured each other as the jury was brought back.

Jackson, head tilted, looked towards the front of the packed court room.

For the most part Olding sat impassively, occasionally whispering a word to his co-accused.

McIlroy rubbed his eyes and sipped water from a plastic cup while Harrison stared straight ahead.

Having been told by Judge Smyth to stand as verdicts were returned, each rose to their feet and clasped their hands in front of them.

Lawyers for 26-year-old Jackson from Oakleigh Park in Belfast, and 24-year old Olding, from Ardenlee Street, said the pair's sporting careers had been "blighted" by the false rape claims.

The high-profile trial was originally scheduled to last for five weeks but has now finished in its ninth week.

In total, 30 witnesses gave evidence, including the four defendants and the complainant whose testimony was heard over eight separate days, and verdicts were returned on day 42.

The court heard from 10 police officers, two doctors, a forensic scientist and a taxi driver who had driven the complainant home on the night in question.

All four defendants consistently denied all of the charges against them.

The incident was alleged to have happened during an after-party at Jackson's home in south Belfast in June 28 2016.

The woman told the court she was attacked after going upstairs to retrieve a clutch bag, having decided to leave the party because the "mood changed".


When the trial opened on January 30, a total of 12 jurors were sworn in - nine men and three women.

 Blane McIlroy arriving at court this morning. Picture by Hugh Russell

But about halfway through the panel was reduced to 11 after one juror was discharged because of illness.

There were emotional scenes outside the courtroom as family and friends of the accused hugged and kissed each other

 Rory Harrison arriving at court today. Picture by Hugh Russell

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