Cliftonville footballer Jay Donnelly jailed for three months after sharing indecent image of child
Irish League football star Jay Donnelly must serve three months imprisonment for distributing a photo of him having sex with a 16-year-old girl treated like a "trophy", a judge ruled today.
The Cliftonville FC striker was appealing the jail sentence handed down after he admitted sharing the indecent image with a friend and up to ten other players on a WhatsApp social media group.
But despite reducing the original term imposed by a month, His Honour Judge David McFarland insisted that a deterrent punishment behind bars was required.
He said: "This is not some sort of momentary abuse which may fade with memory.
"This abuse has been captured, it's on the worldwide web, it will never disappear and that will have a continuing impact on this young lady."
As Donelly was taken from the dock down to the cells, members of his family sobbed and fled out of Belfast County Court.
One female relative shouted: "Love you Jay."
Donnelly, who turns 24 on Wednesday, took the photo of the girl while they were engaged in consensual sex at a house in 2016.
In the picture she was wearing his team shirt, with 'J Donelly 21' emblazoned on the back.
But after the footballer, of Ardilea Drive in north Belfast, shared the image it went viral on social media.
The photo, with the girl's name beside it, also appeared on a fans site and another football club's Facebook page.
She was then said to have been humiliated and subjected to verbal abuse on the street.
In a victim impact statement, she described how her relationship with other pupils deteriorated, with girls looking round at her during school assembly.
The court heard she once walked past a play park where children as young as nine taunted her, shouting: "You love Jay Donnelly's d***."
On other occasions men shouted at her outside a bookies, while others asked if it was her in the photograph.
During interviews Donnelly told police he sent the picture to a mate out of stupidity, adding that he was just being a "f****** d***".
Acording to Judge McFarland, however, there was a clear motivation.
"The purpose in taking and distributing the photograph was to treat the child as some sort of sexual conquest or trophy, and for Mr Donnelly to boast about his sexual exploits among his friends," he said.
The footballer was dropped by Cliftonville following his conviction in November last year.
He had remained on bail pending the challenge to the four-month prison sentence handed down back in January.
His lawyers insisted that he has shown "profound remorse" for acting out of naivety rather than any intent to humiliate the victim.
Defence counsel stressed Donelly's limited intelligence as part of attempts to convince the judge that he had not fully considered the consequences.
The court heard how the footballer has been assessed as having a borderline learning disability, with an IQ in the bottom eight percent of the population.
Barrister Gregory Berry QC said: "It suggests a naivety and a lack of consequential thinking at the time."
During the appeal hearing he added: "Mr Donnelly is not sly, he's not cunning, he's not devious and he's not manipulative.
"He's a young man with limited abilities, very limited abilities."
During the appeal hearing ex-Cliftonville manager Barry Gray gave character evidence on behalf of his former striker.
He described the player as "trustworthy and honest in everything he has done for me".
Asked by Mr Berry if he would have any qualms about signing Donnelly again in future, Mr Gray replied: "Absolutely no hesitation at all."
Despite acknowledging the defendant's clear record and sporting talents, Judge McFarland held that the distributed image fell into the most serious category.
He told Donnelly: "You created the image and were responsible for distributing it to a wider group, and introducing it, through that group, onto the worldwide web.
"It's important to realise this image will remain forever on the worldwide web."
Confirming that the footballer must serve a three-month prison term to reflect all mitigation, the judge added: "The aggravating factors are so strong there's a significant demand for a deterrent sentence so both Mr Donnelly and others will realise this conduct is entirely wrong and will receive the full punishment of the courts on detection."
Belfast Telegraph Digital