Belfast Telegraph

Cliftonville's Jay Donnelly handed jail sentence: Club await appeal to consider actions

Victim received Facebook messages from strangers and adults shouted abuse at her in the street leaving her humiliated.

By Alan Erwin

Irish League football star Jay Donnelly has been jailed for four months for distributing a photo of him having sex with a 16-year-old girl while she wore his team shirt.

Belfast Magistrates' Court heard the Cliftonville striker shared it with a friend and 10 other players in a WhatsApp social media group.

District Judge Amanda Henderson told the 23-year-old he had committed an extreme abuse of trust by sending an image which then went viral.

"I find this such a gross invasion of privacy that there's only one sentence, and that is one of immediate custody," she ruled.

Appearing stunned at the prison term imposed, Donnelly stumbled as he was led to the cells while shocked members of his family gasped and sobbed in the public gallery. He is to be released on bail pending an appeal against the sentence handed down.

The footballer, of Ardilea Drive in the Ardoyne area of the city, has also been placed on the sex offenders' register.

In a statement, Cliftonville said the club "noted" the judgment and subsequent appeal. It said the club would consider the outcome of the appeal.

"The club are mindful of their duties and responsibilities and will continue to act on this basis," it said.

Donnelly had pleaded guilty to distributing an indecent photo of a child on a date unknown between June and October 2016.

A separate charge of taking or making an indecent image was withdrawn.

Irish League footballer Jay Donnelly has been sentenced to four months in prison for distributing an indecent image of a child. Pic Pacemaker
Irish League footballer Jay Donnelly has been sentenced to four months in prison for distributing an indecent image of a child. Pic Pacemaker
Cliftonville footballer Jay Donnelly pictured at Laganside court in Belfast. Mandatory Credit © Presseye
Cliftonville manager Barry Gray (r) pictured with Chairman Gerard Lawlor as the arrive at the court. Mandatory Credit © Presseye

Prosecutors said the victim had consented to being photographed in her underwear and Donnelly's Cliftonville top at an address in Belfast.

But he then took another picture of her, still in the shirt, while they had consensual sex.

Despite asking Donnelly to delete it, she started getting Facebook messages from strangers four months later.

With adults shouting abuse at her in the street, she was said to have been left humiliated by the image being shared on social media.

During police interviews in October that year Donnelly admitted taking the photo and sharing it with friends on a WhatsApp group made up of other players.

A total of 11 people were said to have viewed the picture before it went viral.

Defence counsel Michael Chambers said the footballer is "crushed" by what he had done.

"This was not a malicious act on his part, it was impetuous and stupid, a young man acting out in bravado and boasting to his friends," the barrister insisted.

"He never wanted this to be widely known to the public."

Jay Donnelly in action for Cliftonville.
Jay Donnelly in action for Cliftonville.

Judge Henderson was told Donnelly has been assessed as having a borderline learning disability, with an IQ in the bottom 8% of the population.

His previously "exemplary" playing career, in which he was seen as a role model, is now under serious threat, according to Mr Chambers.

He said Donnelly, who continued to appear for Cliftonville after the allegations emerged, endured taunts and abuse from rival fans unfurling banners and branding him a paedophile.

But following his conviction last November the club dropped him from the team.

"He's acutely aware that as a result of his conduct his future at Cliftonville and his future as a professional footballer in general is in jeopardy," counsel submitted.

In mitigation, he said the defendant confessed as soon as he entered a PSNI station, and has expressed genuine remorse for the distress and humiliation caused to the victim.

The barrister disclosed how Donnelly told police: "F*** I feel for the girl, I know I'm in the wrong... but I actually feel for the girl and what I have put her through.

"I feel as embarrassed for doing it and for being as stupid as f***."

However, Mrs Henderson rejected suggestions that community service would be the appropriate sentence.

She emphasised how Donnelly had shared a "highly intimate" image of a 16-year-old victim.

"It's inconceivable he would not recognise that this would then go viral, which is exactly what happened in this case," the judge said.

"This is completely unacceptable behaviour, with the distress and abuse the injured party has suffered in the last couple of years."

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