Belfast Telegraph

Jay Donnelly in public apology to teen victim as he begins jail sentence

By Alan Erwin

Jay Donnelly issued a public apology to the girl whose indecent image he shared on social media as he began his prison term yesterday.

The Cliftonville striker was told that he must serve three months for distributing the photo of him having sex with the 16-year-old, who a judge said was treated like a "trophy".

Donnelly was appealing the jail sentence handed down after he admitted sharing the indecent image with a friend and up to 10 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 Donnelly was taken from the dock down to the cells, members of his family sobbed and fled Belfast County Court.

Following the ruling Donnelly, of Ardilea Drive in north Belfast, issued a statement through his solicitor John Finucane.

He said: "I accept the decision of the court today in reducing my sentence from four months to three months' custody.

"It was accepted by the court today, that since this incident occurred three years ago, I had and continue to show genuine remorse for my action.

"I want to again apologise to the complainant in this case for the hurt that my action caused.

"This will never erase what happened, but I hope that today's outcome provides her with a degree of closure that allows her to move on with her life."

Donnelly added: "I also want to thank my girlfriend, my family and my friends for the support they have shown me throughout this case.

"This is something I wish to move on from following my sentence, and I ask that my family are allowed to move on also, and are given privacy to do so."

Donnelly, who turns 24 today, took the photo of the girl while they were engaged in consensual sex at a house in 2016. After the footballer shared the image it went viral on social media.

She was then said to have been humiliated and subjected to verbal abuse on the street.

In a victim impact statement the girl 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.

During interviews Donnelly told police he sent the picture to a friend out of stupidity.

According to Judge McFarland, however, there was a clear motivation.

The footballer was dropped by Cliftonville following his conviction last November.

He had remained on bail pending the challenge to the four-month prison sentence handed down 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 Donnelly'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 per cent 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 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".

Despite acknowledging the defendant's clear record and sporting talents, Judge McFarland held that the distributed image fell into the most serious category.

Confirming that the footballer must serve a three-month prison term, 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."

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