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PPS to decide if ex-Ireland rugby player David Tweed will face retrial over child sex abuse claims

A former Ireland international rugby player will not be automatically ordered to face a retrial on child sex abuse allegations, the Court of Appeal confirmed today.

As senior judges set out reasons for quashing David Tweed's convictions, they left it up to the Public Prosecution Service to decide whether to pursue charges.

The 57-year-old had been found guilty in 2012 of 13 counts of indecent assault, gross indecency with a child and inciting gross indecency with a child.

Tweed, a one-time elected councillor from Clonavon Terrace in Ballymena, Co Antrim, was jailed for eight years for the alleged campaign of abuse.

But his lawyers challenged the conviction, claiming flaws in how bad character evidence was put before the jury.

Separate allegations of violence by Tweed were not properly dealt with at the trial, they argued.

In October the Court of Appeal confirmed it was quashing the convictions, with a written judgment to follow.

Tweed was capped four times for Ireland after making his international debut against France in the 1995 Five Nations championship.

He was also part of Ireland's squad at the Rugby World Cup in South Africa and made more than 30 appearances for Ulster.

A former member of the Orange Order, he served as a councillor in Ballymena for the Democratic Unionist Party and later the Traditional Unionist Voice.

He returned to court today to learn the reasons for the decision to overturn his convictions.

Lord Justice Gillen, sitting with Lord Justices Weatherup and Weir, identified a need for the jury to be informed precisely why it was impossible to deal with the case without reference to other alleged violence.

"The real danger is that this background... took on a disproportionate role in the case and created a real risk that the jury would pay more prejudicial attention to it than should have been the case," he said.

"We do entertain a significant sense of unease about the correctness of the verdict given the real risk that the jury have been unfairly prejudiced."

The judge added: "Since this appellant has virtually completed the time specified on foot of his conviction, we do not order a retrial but leave this to the discretion of the Public Prosecution Service."

Tweed served just under four years behind bars for the sentence imposed on him at Antrim Crown Court.

During his trial the prosecution sought to admit bad character evidence in a bid to explain the delay in the complaints being made to police.

His lawyer stressed the significance of today's ruling.

Outside court Aine McCartney of Madden & Finucane solicitors said: "This is an important landmark judgement on the often contentious issue of bad character evidence and deals with how this should be approached by the courts.

"Cases of this nature are often distressing for all parties involved and Mr Tweed is grateful to the Court for overturning his conviction and is relieved to be moving on with his life."

She added: "Importantly, the Court of Appeal made no order for a retrial. However, the decision ultimately lies with the Public Prosecution Service."

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