We'll respect not guilty verdicts: PPS
The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) said it would "respect the verdict" of the jury after two Ulster Rugby players were yesterday cleared of rape.
Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were found innocent by unanimous verdict, with Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison cleared of other charges.
Defending the decision to prosecute, Marianne O'Kane, the head of the PPS's serious crimes unit, which handles sexual offences, said the case had been subjected to "thorough examination", meaning the test for prosecution had been met, that there was a reasonable prospect of conviction and that it was in the public interest to prosecute.
"It was ultimately right that the matter was placed before a jury to make their determination," Mrs O'Kane said.
After praising the trial judge, Patricia Smyth, prosecution team and PSNI for their work on a "complex" investigation, she hailed the "courage and determination" of the complainant and her family during the case.
"There has been extensive media coverage of this case, sometimes at a level which has been unprecedented in recent times," Mrs O'Kane said. "I hope that this has helped the public to better understand the criminal justice system and the trial process. I also hope that there will be a continuing conversation about societal attitudes in relation to sexual offences."
She called rape and sexual assaults "devastating crimes" and said the PPS understood the impact upon victims and their families.
"We work very closely with both police and victims' organisations such as Nexus and Victim Support to make sure that all victims will have all the support they need throughout the criminal justice process," Mrs O'Kane added.
"I want to take this opportunity to say to anyone who has been a victim of any offence, please come forward and be assured that you will be treated with sensitivity and respect throughout."