Belfast Telegraph

Stuart Olding: The 'fine rugby brain' who may be haunted by Whatsapp messages

By Lesley-Anne McKeown

Despite having four Ireland caps and being a regular in Ulster's starting line-up, Stuart Olding is less well known outside the rugby fraternity than Paddy Jackson.

Indeed several witnesses, including three of the women who attended the house party where the rape had been alleged to have happened on June 28, 2016, said they recognised Jackson but had not heard of Olding.

The high-profile trial, which saw both men acquitted of rape, coincided with Olding's 25th birthday - 17 years after he first started playing mini rugby.

Born in Belfast, he is the youngest of three brothers.

He is single and lives alone within earshot of the famous "Ravenhill roar" and was single at the time of the alleged attack.

Olding attended the £4,000-a-year Ben Madigan Preparatory School in north Belfast before transferring to Belfast Royal Academy where his close peer network of "six girls and six guys" included the British and Irish Lions star Iain Henderson.

He left school with GCSEs and three A-level qualifications in Business Studies, RE and PE and went on to study sports science at Ulster University.

However his degree was deferred after a year-and-a-half because of rugby commitments.

As well as playing for his school teams, Olding represented Ulster and Ireland at under-18 level.

Like Jackson, he was invited to attend the Ulster Rugby Academy a few weeks after leaving school.

He impressed bosses at the Kingspan Stadium and quickly rose up the ranks from the academy and preparatory squads before making his Ulster senior debut on Boxing Day in 2011, aged 18.

His senior international debut came two years later in the summer of 2013 when he was selected for the Irish tour of the USA and Canada.

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

However, his career has been blighted by a number of serious injuries including ligament tears in his knee and elbow which required separate surgeries and significant stints in rehab.

Despite the setbacks, Olding returned to the field for the 2015/16 season and was again selected for the Irish squad on the South African tour in 2016, returning home just a day before the alleged rape.

"I was pleased, with the amount of rugby I had missed because of injuries I was delighted to be, still on the fringes, but making a name for myself. I was in a good place in my life," he told the trial.

Olding and Jackson became close friends through rugby.

They socialised and holidayed together and were frequent visitors to each other's homes.

Olding is also an avid user of social media. He has more than 7,000 Twitter followers and thousands more Facebook fans to whom he promotes flash cars and a privileged lifestyle.

But while he has lent his name to a variety of good causes, he may be forever haunted by the now infamous WhatsApp messages in which he wrote: "We are all top shaggers" and "There was a lot of spitroasting going on last night fellas".

Giving evidence in his defence, Olding described the messages as immature bragging.

He said: "I am certainly not proud talking like that.

"But I did it, I have done it and I shouldn't have done it."

Throughout the lengthy trial he showed very little emotion, indeed Olding barely flinched when, at one point, the complainant described him as "monkeyish" and imbecilic.

He was granted legal aid from the fifth week of the trial having funded the earlier costs himself and with the help of friends and family.

While Jackson arrived at court flanked by his family every day, Stuart Olding faced the cameras alone.

On occasions he was accompanied by solicitor Joe Rice, who had been sent by Ulster Rugby to give representation when he was first arrested on June 30, 2016.

There was, however, family support inside the court.

Olding has already overcome serious injury to fight his way back to fitness.

Now, with his name cleared, he faces yet another major battle - to return to the pinnacle of his sport.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

Daily News Headlines Newsletter

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph