Belfast Telegraph

Privacy lawsuit brought by two Irish rugby stars facing rape charges could be put on hold, court hears

By Alan Erwin

A privacy lawsuit brought by two Irish rugby stars facing rape charges could be put on hold until any criminal trial is completed, it has emerged.

Counsel for Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding told the High Court that the separate civil action should not be heard first.

With proceedings against the BBC provisionally due to get underway next month, a judge indicated she wanted more information on any potential prejudice to the ongoing prosecution.

Mrs Justice Keegan said: "I don't think anybody should be organising witnesses at this stage, given the uncertainty in this case."

The two players are accused of sexual offences against the same woman at a house in south Belfast in June last year.

Fly half Jackson, 25, of Oakleigh Park in the city, is charged with one count of rape and one count of sexual assault.

His 24-year-old Ireland and Ulster Rugby team mate Olding, of Ardenlee Street, Belfast, is charged with two counts of rape.

Both players strenuously deny all allegations made against them.

A preliminary inquiry to test the strength of the prosecution evidence is due to take place at Belfast Magistrates' Court later this month.

The stars are continuing with litigation against the BBC over the initial coverage of their questioning by police.

Writs seeking damages for misuse of private information were issued after details were published online at the start of November last year - months before charges with brought.

Their legal teams contend they weren't given sufficient notice for a right of reply before the story appeared.

They claim it was a private matter and raise issues about how the information was obtained.

In court today Peter Girvan, representing Jackson and Olding, insisted the civil action had not been definitively fixed for hearing in November.

The barrister set out issues around witnesses and securing police and prosecution documents while the criminal process is ongoing.

Predicting any trial on the rape allegations will take place early next year, Mr Girvan said: "We don't believe it's appropriate for the civil proceedings to be run before that."

He claimed the broadcaster was "inappropriately" attempting to compel his client's into formally applying for a stay in the lawsuit.

"It's not for the BBC to force the plaintiffs, who are defendants in an important criminal process," Mr Girvan added.

"We say it's self-evident that the civil trial should go after the criminal trial."

Richard Coghlin, for the BBC, countered that the case has effectively been fixed for hearing in November.

Even if that date is kept, he argued, it will be a year since the events at the centre of the claim.

"An adjournment until after the determination of the criminal proceedings, in our view that is an application for a stay by any other name," the barrister said.

Mr Coghlin also claimed steps could be taken to ensure no risk of prejudicing any Crown Court trial.

Adjourning the case for two weeks, Mrs Justice Keegan requested full position papers from both sides, along with counsel representing the Public Prosecution Service.

She told them: "We now have an issue, and we need to get to grips with it."

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