Rape charge Ireland rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding vow to clear names
Two Ulster Rugby stars have been charged with rape.
They are among four men charged as part of a police probe into allegations of sexual assault.
Irish internationals Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding will appear in court next month after they were arrested and questioned in June 2016 over allegations of a sexual assault in south Belfast last year.
The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) confirmed it has taken a decision to prosecute four men in connection with the alleged rape on June 28.
Solicitors for Jackson (25) and Olding (24) say they deny the charges.
Both players have been relieved of their Ireland and Ulster duties pending the outcome of the trial.
All four men were made aware of the PPS decision on Monday and are due to appear at Laganside Court, Belfast next month.
A PPS spokesperson said: "Following a careful review of all of the available evidence, in accordance with our Code for Prosecutors, it has been decided that there is sufficient evidence to prosecute four individuals."
Jackson and Olding are to be prosecuted for rape.
Another man is accused of sexual offences while the other faces counts of withholding information and perverting the course of justice.
Solicitor Joe Rice, who represents Olding, described the rugby player as a man of "impeccable character" with an "unblemished" record.
"It is disappointing that over a year since the original allegation was made that the PPS in Northern Ireland has now issued a decision to prosecute," he said.
Mr Rice said Olding has co-operated fully with the PSNI investigation.
"He is not on bail, he does not face any restrictions, and he is now being served with an indictable summons to attend to answer serious criminal charges at Laganside Magistrates Court on August 23," he said.
"He is anxious to clear his name in court in the near future.
"It should be stressed that he wishes to uphold the presumption of innocence in Northern Ireland law and will be pleading not guilty to these allegations.
"He will be fully contesting these allegations through the court system in Northern Ireland.
"Obviously we would ask everyone to respect the presumption of innocence that applies," he added.
Solicitor Kevin Winters, who represents Jackson, said: "We are very disappointed at the decision of the PPS to prosecute given the particular circumstances and facts known in this case.
"Our client rejects completely the allegations made against him and we are confident he will be exonerated in due course.
"Given that the case will be a jury trial it is absolutely critical that nothing is done or said in the media to prejudice due process and to that end we urge restraint on any sensationalist reporting.
"We will push for as early a hearing as soon as possible as Patrick wants to quickly resume playing his rugby for Ulster and representing his country."
The Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby said in a statement: "The IRFU and Ulster Rugby are aware that Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have been charged by the PSNI in relation to serious allegations made against them.
"The players have co-operated fully and strenuously deny the charges.
"The IRFU and Ulster Rugby take these allegations extremely seriously.
"To allow the players time to address this matter fully, the IRFU and Ulster Rugby have agreed that they will be relieved of their duties and obligations until the conclusion of this process.
"Appropriate support structures will be put in place with them during this time.
"As this is a matter for the PPS it would be inappropriate to comment further."
Jackson, the Ulster fly-half, has been capped for Ireland 25 times.
He made his Ireland debut against Scotland in the 2013 Six Nations, and most recently he was part of the Ireland squad that won two Tests in Japan over the summer, starting both matches.
Olding, who is a centre, has played four times for the Ireland team.
He made his Ulster debut as an 18-year-old against Leinster in Dublin on Boxing Day 2011.
by cate mccurry