Belfast Telegraph

Pressure to axe Ireland rape trial players Jackson and Olding mounts

By Claire O'Boyle and Cate McCurry

Pressure is mounting on the rugby authorities to axe players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding for bringing the game into disrepute.

An online petition calling on the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) to publish its review into the conduct of the Ireland and Ulster stars has reached almost 60,000 signatures.

Both men were cleared of rape last week after a 42-day trial at Belfast Crown Court.

The jury took three hours and 45 minutes to reach its verdicts.

Mr Jackson (26) was also acquitted of sexual assault.

The petition urges the IRFU to take into account what the players said in court, WhatsApp records of their dialogue, their public image, and the rugby authority's code of ethics.

"Please then act on the findings. This is the minimum you can do to ensure the integrity of Irish rugby," it adds.

The review, which starts this week, will be carried out by two officials from the IRFU and two from Ulster Rugby.

A legal representative of the IRFU who monitored proceedings at Belfast Crown Court for the entire trial will also be present. That report will form part of the internal review.

A senior source in Irish rugby said: "Both men have been found not guilty in the eyes of the law. However, what still must be established is whether or not the players have brought the game and/or the union into disrepute."

The IRFU must make an application to Belfast Crown Court if it intends to seek full transcripts of evidence, which includes details of texts and other electronic messages.

Mr Jackson and Mr Olding are both on contracts valued at between €1,000,000 (about £900,000) and €300,000 (£270,000), with Mr Olding paid less than Mr Jackson.

Both men's current contracts were signed only weeks before events at the party at Mr Jackson's home on June 28, 2016 which led to the trial.

Irish rugby legend Neil Francis said the review presented a problem for the two players.

"The IRFU and Ulster review will be a very difficult situation, and my view is that it will not go well for Jackson and Olding," the retired lock forward wrote in the Sunday Independent.

"Both players are contracted until June 2019.

"There are express conditions and specific codes of conduct in their contracts.

"Both could easily be found on review to have engaged in gross misconduct and to have brought the game and body into disrepute, the consequences of which cannot be ignored."

As the extraordinary fallout from the trial continued, demonstrators gathered on Saturday in Belfast, Dublin, Cork and Galway to protest at the way in which rape cases are conducted.

They called for changes in the law, saying the justice system was not equipped to deal with such cases.

Elsewhere, it was reported that the PSNI is investigating a death threat against a solicitor who defended Jackson.

It's understood the threat was made in the wake of Wednesday's verdict.

The PSNI said: "We do not discuss the security of individuals and no inference should be drawn from this.

"However, if we receive information that a person's life may be at risk we will inform them accordingly.

"We never ignore anything which may put an individual at risk."

The law firm KRW was unavailable for comment last night.

The PSNI probe comes as it emerged that at least two rugby clubs - one in England and one in France - have made approaches to Mr Jackson, while a third club has enquired about the services of both players.

Meanwhile, a juror in the high-profile rape trial has said comments they posted online after the four men in the case were acquitted will not be treated as a criminal matter.

Blane McIlroy (26) was acquitted of exposure, while Rory Harrison (25) was found not guilty of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

The juror, who was part of the 11-person panel to clear the four of all charges against them, publicised the comments after the verdicts were delivered last week.

They were posted under an online story relating to the case.

As a result, the Public Prosecution Service referred the matter to Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, who passed it to Attorney General John Larkin. Under law, jurors are not permitted to disclose details of their deliberations in any trial, and the juror was warned the remarks could lead to arrest.

After being alerted to a possible contempt action over the posts, the juror contacted the PSNI on Friday.

A statement posted online on Friday, purporting to be from the juror, said the office of the Lord Chief Justice in Belfast had been in touch, adding: "I was told that I am liable for arrest."

Later that night the juror, who has worked as an online commentator for a website on issues including the PSNI, Brexit and gender transitioning, went online again to say: "I had a lovely chat with a couple of constables of the PSNI just then (10pm) who informed me that it's now a civil case. Phew!"

Police confirmed officers had spoken to the juror.

The PSNI also said two files had been forwarded to the PPS for consideration in relation to the naming of the complainant online.

In a separate development, a key witness in the case has hit out at the reaction to her evidence on social media.

Dara Florence told the jury of eight men and three women that she did not believe she had walked in on a rape when she opened the bedroom door on Mr Jackson, Mr Olding and the complainant.

Ms Florence, who said she believed she had walked in on a "threesome", told Sunday Life: "I didn't really like what was written online.

"I feel I said what I needed to say."

She added that the trial "had not been nice" for anyone involved.

The 21-year-old has faced social media criticism for everything from her evidence to her appearance.

It was reported that she had turned down big money offers from media outlets across the UK and Ireland to give her perspective on what was one of the biggest trials ever in Northern Ireland.

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