Belfast Telegraph

Rugby rape trial: Four sporting friends who found themselves in courtroom battle

Paddy Jackson

A decade has passed since St Patrick's Day 2008 when Paddy Jackson entered the spotlight as part of a victorious Schools' Cup-winning team.

Born David Patrick Lindsay James, he is the most high-profile of the four men.

Paddy Jackson
Paddy Jackson
Stuart Olding
Blane McIlroy
Rory Harrison

Known to his friends and rugby pals as 'Jacko', he is seen as the 'joker' in his peer group.

He shot to fame as an international rugby player in 2013 when he was selected to start against Scotland in the Six Nations Championship.

The fly-half has been capped for Ireland 25 times.

The 26-year-old was born in Lisburn and grew up in Belfast with his parents, Peter and Gay, his older brother Paul and younger sister Kerry. He is also an uncle to Paul's young daughter.

He attended Methodist College with friends Rory Harrison and Blane McIlroy.

McIlroy, Jackson and Harrison all played in the 2009 Schools' Cup-winning side. Jackson was also part of the Methody side that beat Regent House 36-0 in the final the previous year.

He has played the sport since the age of six when he began with mini-rugby at Belfast Harlequins.

At the age of 16, he was playing under-18s with Ulster Rugby as well as under-18s, 19s and 20s with Irish schools, captaining each of those sides.

Jackson also captained the Ireland under-20 team.

He made his competitive debut for Ulster Rugby against Llanelli Scarlets in February 2011 when Ulster won 18-16.

Jackson first came to broader prominence when selected to start in Ulster's Heineken Cup semi-final against Edinburgh on April 28, 2012. The talented player had represented Ireland at various levels and was included in the Ireland Junior World Championship squad in 2011.

He made his senior debut for Ireland on February 24, 2013 in the Six Nations.

And on February 11, 2017, Jackson kicked 18 points against Italy in the competition. In May 2017, he was named in the Ireland squad to tour USA and Japan.

He primarily plays at fly-half for Ulster in the Pro14 and has committed to the province to at least July 2019.

As well as attracting attention for his skill on the rugby field, he is also renowned for his comical Instagram posts and videos, often seen with Stuart Olding.

He first met Olding, who he describes as a "very close friend", when they attended Ulster Rugby Academy which coaches talented young players.

To relax outside rugby, Jackson likes to spend time with family, friends and with the family dog, as well as watching films.

It also emerged during the case that he likes to draw and sketch to help him relax, revealing that he likes to "draw lots of superheroes" and his dog.

He often uploads clips of himself rapping songs - which he described as a "silly" pastime - with one video gaining more than one million views on YouTube.

Jackson has also carried out charity work with Mencap and Action Cancer. In 2016, he was made one of Mencap's ambassadors.

He had just returned from the Test tour in South Africa - where he started all three tests - when he was accused of being involved in the alleged rape.

After he was charged with the alleged offence, Jackson was relieved of his Ireland and Ulster playing duties by the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby.

Blane McIlroy

Blane McIlroy, while not as well-known as his friends Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, has been a successful rugby player at both a professional and amateur level.

The 26-year-old from Belfast has made senior appearances for Ulster and also played for Ballynahinch and Ballymena.

He grew up in Belfast with his parents and younger sister and brother. At the age of five he joined his local club Ballynahinch as his father and grandfather encouraged him to play from a young age.

Mr McIlroy has been friends with Mr Jackson since they were aged 11 and pals with Mr Olding “for some years”.

He then went to Methodist College, where he continued his rugby education. He played alongside Ulster half-back and friend Jackson and Rory Harrison and went on to play age grade rugby for Ulster and Ireland, including representing the national U20 side.

The trio all played in Methody’s 2009 Schools’ Cup-winning side. Upon leaving school, he joined Ballymena and had a couple of impressive campaigns in the Ulster Bank League. The scrum-half earned a development contract in 2012 and 2013. During that time he made two appearances for Ulster while being a member of the Ulster Academy, before making his way into the senior squad.

In an interview at the time, he said: “This is my first year being part of the senior panel and it’s great.

“When you get the chance to play when you’re in the Ulster Academy it’s good, but you don’t really feel worthy of a spot on the senior team.

“Now I’m friendlier with all the team and it feels like I am part of the team.”

He also played rugby for Ulster in their age group squads, as well as representing Ireland in the U20s.

After failing to secure another contract at Ulster in 2014, Mr McIlroy moved to the United States to study at Life University in Atlanta, Georgia.

He continued to play rugby for the university’s team while studying business administration.

At the time of his arrest Mr McIlroy, from Royal Lodge Road in the south of the city, had been on a short break at home from America in 2016.

It emerged during the court case that he was unable to return to the United States to complete his studies because of the criminal proceedings.  He was on scholarship and had just one semester — 12 weeks — left before his business administration course was complete.

Since his return to Northern Ireland he has been back playing rugby at Ballynahinch. It is not yet clear whether Mr McIlroy plans on returning to America to complete his studies now that the trial is over.

Rory Harrison

History graduate Rory Harrison went to Methodist College Belfast along with Paddy Jackson and Blane McIlroy where the trio played rugby. He is the oldest of four children, with a brother and sister who are twins and another sister aged 19.

While Harrison never made it to the top rung of professional rugby like his friends, he did represent Ulster and Ireland at school level, and turned out for UCD, Terenure College as well as Belfast Harlequins.

The 25-year-old prop, from Manse Road in the city, has spent time living in Sydney as well as Dublin.

While he told Belfast Crown Court he had known Jackson since he was eight or nine years old, he did not meet Stuart Olding until later through rugby.

Harrison described his relationship with the other men in the dock during his evidence. He said Jackson was a “good friend”, adding he would not “get to see him very much until this had all begun”.

Asked about his friendship with Stuart Olding, Harrison told the court: “I’m friendly with him but I would not see him very often, and any time I would have it would be through Patrick.”

Blane McIlroy has also been a “friend” since school days at Methody, the court heard.

Harrison had earlier told police the men weren’t his “best friends”, and the jury learned he was not part of the WhatsApp groups that were so central to the high-profile trial — “Jacome” and “The Juicers” — in which explicit messages were shared in the hours after the incident in June 2016. He was described as being the “music man” at parties and would always locate himself beside the speaker choosing the tunes.

His father, a solicitor who does not specialise in criminal work, and mother, a nurse, supported him throughout the trial.

At the end of the’ night out at Ollie’s nightclub in Belfast city centre, Harrison posed for a selfie with Northern Ireland footballer Will Grigg, who had just returned from Euro 2016, and posted the picture on Facebook the next day.

Stuart Olding

Stuart Olding is the only one of the four men who did not attend Methody, instead spending his school years at Ben Madigan prep and Belfast Royal Academy.

After finishing A-levels in PE, religious studies and business, he went on to Ulster University in 2011 to start a sports science degree.

By that time Olding, who started playing mini-rugby aged eight, had already received a call from Ulster Rugby. Despite feeling “pretty nervous” about meeting team bosses, he was selected for the academy, and progressed from there, later deferring his studies to focus on the sport.

Olding made his debut for Ulster aged 18 as a substitute against Leinster on Boxing Day 2011, and went on to make 58 appearances for the side.

His rugby profile describes him as a “silky runner with an astute kicking game and fine rugby brain”. Others have described him as clever, funny, good-humoured and popular.

He scored his first try for Ulster against Glasgow in February 2013.  Man of the match honours followed in games against the Dragons and Connacht, and before long he was regarded as one of the most exciting young players in Irish rugby.

The sportsman, who has lined up at centre, full-back and out-half through his career, represented Ireland at both under-18 and under-20 level, and made his senior debut against the USA in June 2013 during a tour of the US and Canada. He has won five caps and scored a single try for Ireland. His last game for the national team was on June 25, 2016 against South Africa in Port Elizabeth, just two days before the night out in Belfast that led to the rape allegations.

During the trial, Olding told the court his career had been blighted by injury between 2013 and 2015 after a torn ligament in his elbow and two injuries to the cruciate ligament in his right knee, and that the South African tour had given him hope things were on the up.

He told the jury that after making it onto the field twice during the trip, “things had gone very well for me. I thought I was going to progress my career from there. I was delighted. I was in a good place”.

Olding turned 25 on March 11, just as the trial was entering its seventh week.  He told the court that while he and Jackson had not known each other growing up, they had become firm friends after meeting at the Ulster Rugby academy. He had known Ulster and Ireland teammate Iain Henderson all his life, as their fathers were friends, he said.

Olding told the court he was single at the time of the incident in June 2016, and that he was still single during the trial.

Originally from the Carrickfergus-Jordanstown area, he was living alone in a two-bedroom apartment in south Belfast.

He last played rugby professionally on April 24, 2017 against Ospreys,when he came on as a substitute.

He had to be quickly replaced after suffering an ankle injury. Ulster Rugby and the IRFU announced their decision to suspend him on July 25 last year, along with Jackson, until the accusations against them were fully dealt with.

Belfast Telegraph

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