Rugby players solicitors bid to have rape charges thrown out
Two Ireland and Ulster rugby stars charged with rape are to mount an early challenge to the evidence against them.
Solicitors for Paddy Jackson (25) and Stuart Olding (24) told Belfast Magistrates Court that they want a hearing to test the strength of the prosecution case.
Jackson, from Oakleigh Park, Belfast, faces charges of rape and sexual assault, while Olding, of Ardenlee Street, also Belfast, is charged with two counts of rape in relation to an alleged incident against the same woman at a house in the south of the city on June 28 last year.
Both strenuously deny the charges against them.
Neither Jackson nor Olding appeared in court yesterday for the proceedings, which lasted around 10 minutes.
Two other defendants charged in connection with the alleged incident were also absent when the case was brought before a judge for the first time.
Blane McIlroy, of Royal Lodge Road, Belfast, is charged with one count of exposure.
And Rory Harrison, of Manse Road, Belfast, is charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding information.
Both deny the charges against them.
The court heard the sportsmen were not legally required to attend the hearing.
During yesterday's short proceedings Olding's solicitor Joe Rice told District Judge Fiona Bagnall that he would be pleading not guilty to both charges.
The lawyer also said he would submit that there was insufficient evidence for one of the rape allegations.
Mr Rice pledged to make a "robust application" to have that count dismissed at a preliminary stage and said he will not be asking for any witnesses to be called in relation to his client.
Outside the court solicitor Paul Dougan, who is part of Olding's legal team, added: "Stuart wants the opportunity to clear his name and play rugby again."
Jackson's lawyer Joe McVeigh set out a similar denial to the allegations against him and said they will be calling two witnesses - an investigating officer and a civilian who has not been named at this stage - to give evidence as part of his challenge to the prosecution case.
Speaking to reporters after the proceedings in Court 10 had ended, a member of Jackson's legal team said: "It is the intention of the defence to argue there is no case to answer."
Fly-half Jackson has been capped for Ireland 25 times, while centre Olding has played four times.
The pair are Ulster Rugby team-mates.
The Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby have said the pair will not play again until the court process is over, which means they are likely to miss the current season at least.
Their co-accused, McIlroy and Harrison, attended Methodist College with Jackson and all three played in the 2009 Schools' Cup winning side.
Gordon Laird from McNulty and Company Solicitors issued a statement on behalf of scrum-half McIlroy, a former Ulster star, who has been charged with exposure.
It read: "Our client absolutely denies the allegations made, and has co-operated fully with the police investigation throughout the course of their enquiries.
"It is the case that our client intends to plead not guilty, and wishes the matter to be contested in court."
According to the charges, Harrison, a former University College Dublin player who is currently with Belfast Harlequins, made a witness statement to police, lied about his dealings with the alleged rape victim and omitted information relevant to the investigation.
His solicitor Tony Caher insisted he wanted the prosecution to provide more details on the alleged offence.
"We don't know what lies and omissions they are referring to," he said.
The court heard that recordings of the alleged victim's police interviews and photographs from the scene were being sought.
All four players were arrested and questioned in June 2016, then released pending a report to prosecutors in Northern Ireland.
Last month the Public Prosecution Service decided they had a case to answer and summonses were served.
Yesterday Judge Bagnall adjourned the case until September 6, when she is expected to fix a date for the preliminary enquiry hearing.