Belfast Telegraph

Footballer Jay Donnelly jailed after sharing a sex photo of girl (16)

Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

Irish League football star Jay Donnelly has been jailed for four months for sharing an indecent photo of him having sex with a 16-year-old girl.

The Cliftonville striker (23) shared the image with a friend and to 10 other players in a WhatsApp social media group, Belfast Magistrates Court heard yesterday.

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 A separate charge of taking or making an indecent image was withdrawn.

Donnelly, of Ardilea Drive in north Belfast, was granted bail pending an appeal against the sentence. He has also been placed on the Sex Offenders' Register.

The court heard that in June 2016 the 16-year-old victim had consented to a photograph in her underwear and a Cliftonville top.

The pair then had consensual sexual intercourse, during which Donnelly took an "extremely intimate" photograph of the girl.

Despite her asking Donnelly to delete it, he shared it with a friend and also in a WhatsApp group with 10 members, which included other Cliftonville players.

A prosecutor said the photograph was leaked on Facebook four months later. On October 25 the injured party began receiving text messages about the image, which left her humiliated. She was also verbally abused on the street.

Defence counsel Michael Chambers told the court that his client was horrified when the image got out and of the impact this had on the victim.

He said Donnelly was an "exemplary" footballer and a "role model" but is now "acutely aware" that his footballing career is in jeopardy due to his conduct.

Irish League footballer Jay Donnelly leaves his sentencing at Belfast Magistrates’ Court yesterday
Irish League footballer Jay Donnelly leaves his sentencing at Belfast Magistrates’ Court yesterday
Irish League footballer Jay Donnelly leaves his sentencing at Belfast Magistrates’ Court yesterday

District Judge Amanda Henderson was told that after the allegations emerged Donnelly was subjected to "very significant verbal abuse on and off the pitch", including having banners unfurled at matches accusing him of being a paedophile.

Mr Chambers said: "This was not a malicious act on his part. It was impetuous and stupid by a young man acting out in bravado and boasting to his friends. He never wanted this to be widely known to the public."

The court was told Donnelly has been assessed as having a borderline learning disability, with an IQ in the bottom eight per cent of the population.

Mr Chambers said the defendant had expressed genuine remorse from the outset for the distress and humiliation caused to the victim, telling police: "F*** I feel for the girl and what I have put her through. I feel bad for being as stupid as f***."

Judge Henderson said Donnelly had committed an extreme abuse of trust by sending the "highly intimate" photo, which then went viral.

"It's inconceivable he would not recognise that this image would then go viral, which is exactly what happened in this case. This is completely unacceptable behaviour given the distress and abuse caused to the injured party," she said.

Jay Donnelly playing with Cliftonville last November
Jay Donnelly playing with Cliftonville last November

She rejected suggestions that community service would be an appropriate sentence, adding that "such a gross invasion of privacy" merited only one sentence of "immediate custody".

Members of Donnelly's family gasped in shock and wept openly in court as the sentence was handed down.

Donnelly made no comment to the media as he left Laganside Courts yesterday.

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