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Paddy Jackson 'grateful to jury for common sense verdict'

The Ulster rugby player commented outside the court today after being acquitted of a charge of rape.

Image: Charles McQuillan

ULSTER RUGBY PLAYER Paddy Jackson, who was acquitted today on a charge of rape at Belfast Crown Court, is grateful to the jury for the “common sense verdict” according to his lawyers.

Jackson (26), from Oakleigh Park in Belfast and Stuart Olding (24) from Ardenlee Street, were found not guilty of raping a 19-year-old student in June 2016.

Blane McIlroy (26), from Royal Lodge Road, was acquitted on the charge of exposure, and Rory Harrison (25) from Manse Road, also Belfast, was acquitted of charges of perverting the course of public justice, and withholding information.

Stuart Olding thanked his legal team and family for their support. In a statement read by his solicitor Paul Dougan, Olding apologised to the woman at the centre of the case.

He said: “I want to acknowledge that the complainant came to court and gave evidence about her perception of those events.

I am sorry for the hurt that was caused to the complainant. It was never my intention to hurt anyone on that night.

Paddy Jackson

Outside the court today, Paddy Jackson thanked his family, barristers and solicitors.

He said:

Out of respect for my employers I have nothing further to comment.

His solicitor Joe McVeigh then made a statement on behalf of Jackson, saying:

We are grateful to the jury for reaching what was a commonsense verdict of not guilty on all counts. Paddy has been consistent in his denials and in his account. Consistency has 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 it almost 10 weeks ago: an innocent man. The prosecution made much of a perceived privileged position, provided by virtue of Paddy being an international rugby player. We say that it is this very status as a famous sportsman that drove the decision to prosecute in the first place.

McVeigh also spoke of what he described as the price paid by Jackson and his parents:

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

McVeigh said that the acquittals for the 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 content, particularly on Twitter. Several days of this trial were lost to the 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 a flood of misinformed, misconceived and malicious content on the internet, particularly during the last phase of this trial.
Worryingly, even at the heart of public service they should have known better there is 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 justice system.

McVeigh concluded by saying:

As for Paddy, his priority now is to return to work.

The PSNI also released a statement on the case. Detective Chief Superintendent Paula Hilman, Head of Public Protection Branch said:

We accept and acknowledge the decision made by the jury in this case. We thank them and Her Honour Judge Smyth, for their time and commitment to what was a lengthy and complex case.
This has been a difficult time for all those involved in this trial. We have faith and trust in the legal system and respect the verdict.

She added:

I would like to pay tribute to the young woman who had the resolve and confidence to come forward and put her faith in police and the criminal justice process. In addition to this, she was named on social media sites during the trial contrary to her legal entitlement. Any breach of this entitlement is and will be investigated.
A dedicated and specialised team of police officers and staff from the Rape Crime Unit, led by Detective Chief Inspector Zoe McKee, all worked diligently on this case. I want to thank these officers and staff for their hard work and commitment.

She said she would also like to acknowledge and thank the Public Prosecution Service for their professionalism and expertise throughout.

This case has provoked much comment and debate. While we respect today’s verdict it should not deter victims of serious sexual crime from contacting police.
As police officers our role is to keep people safe. Anyone can be the victim of sexual crime regardless of age, background, status or gender.
There is no room in society for tolerance of sexual crime. We understand how difficult it can be for someone to report a rape, but let me assure you today that if you choose to speak to police, you will be listened to, respected, treated sensitively, have your report thoroughly investigated, and you will be signposted to support services such as Nexus and Victim Support among others.
We will continue to work hard to improve outcomes for offences of rape and sexual assault working in collaboration with the Public Prosecution Service and other partners. Our message is clear, please continue to report.

Contains reporting from Ashleigh McDonald.

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