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Sunday Life

Girlfriend of shamed Cliftonville striker Jay Donnelly says 'I'll stand by my man'


Jay Donnelly
Jay Donnelly

By Christopher Woodhouse, for Sunday Life

The girlfriend of shamed Cliftonville star Jay Donnelly is standing by her man after he was jailed for sharing a sexual image of a child.

Rachael Campbell, the partner of the 23-year-old striker, has said she is "proud" of Donnelly, who was given a four-month prison sentence last week.

And the 22-year-old lashed out at his critics, many of whom have called on Cliftonville to sack the self-confessed sex offender.

In a public Facebook post of her and Donnelly together, she wrote: "Me and my absolute world who I'm proud off and love so much #F**KTHEHATERZ."

She published the remarks two days after Donnelly pleaded guilty to the charge on November 28 and received more than a dozen messages of support, mostly from female friends.

Jay's sister Cathy added: "Love you two so much! Jay Donnelly you make me so proud to be your big sister! F**k the haters."

Loyal Rachael was by Jay's side as he attended Belfast Magistrates Court last week to be sentenced for the sex crime.

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Also backing Donnelly are Cliftonville chairman Gerard Lawlor and team manager Barry Gray who both provided references to the court ahead of his sentencing.

Donnelly - who is now on the Sex Offenders' Register - is set to appeal against his four-month jail sentence at Belfast County Court this Friday.

Friends believe the player is hoping to move to the Irish Republic where he has relatives.

Irish League footballer Jay Donnelly, 23, leaves Belfast Magistrates’ Court where he was handed a four-month prison sentence for distributing an indecent image of a child.

Meanwhile, a campaigner for survivors of sexual abuse has called for the north Belfast club to sack Donnelly.

"Behaviour like this cannot be tolerated, it is incumbent upon Cliftonville to sack Jay Donnelly. Sexual abuse is sexual abuse, there are no mitigating factors," said Margaret McGuckin, of Survivors and Victims of Institutional Abuse (Savia).

"As an adult he took a sexual photograph of a 16-year-old girl and then callously shared it with 11 friends even after she asked him to delete it.

"My heart goes out to the victim, she deserves all our sympathy and support."

During his sentencing hearing on Thursday, Belfast Magistrates Court was told Donnelly shared the images of him engaging in a sex act with the 16-year-old girl in a WhatsApp group containing 10 other Cliftonville players.

Last night a PSNI spokeswoman confirmed the 10 Cliftonville players who Donnelly sent the child sex image to will not face prosecution. "The PSNI is not investigating any other individuals in relation to this case at this time. However, should further information be brought to the PSNI this will be examined," she said.

Police sources revealed the players were not questioned because it was accepted they did not ask for Donnelly to send them the graphic image of him having sex with his teen victim.

Last week's court hearing was told the victim asked Donnelly to delete the extremely graphic photographs of her immediately after he took them but he did not.

The sharing of the image eventually lead to the victim suffering abuse in the street after the image leaked onto social media where she was identified.

Jay Donnelly in action for Cliftonville.

During his sentencing hearing, Donnelly's barrister said he fully co-operated with the police investigation and that he was very remorseful for his actions.

He told District Judge Amanda Henderson that Donnelly told officers: "F***k, I feel for her", "I know it was wrong and stupid" and "I feel embarrassed and stupid as f**k".

The lawyer said Donnelly was "mortified when it got out". Judge Henderson questioned why he didn't realise it might go viral were it to leak onto social media.

Donnelly's barrister said that a psychological evaluation showed he had a "very, very low" IQ of between 72 and 81, pointing out that 70 would put him in the range of learning difficulties.

He also said Donnelly's family are "very respectable" and have made clear to him that his conduct was inappropriate.

The barrister further said that Donnelly's teenage sister had spoken with him at length about his behaviour.

He added that Donnelly was "acutely" aware he had put his career at risk.

"He was respected and to some extent is still respected in the club," he said.

After he was charged with the offence in November 2017, Cliftonville continued to play Donnelly, even the day after he pleaded guilty to the charge last November.

Donnelly was later dropped from playing after it emerged Belfast Feminist Network were planning protests outside its home ground of Solitude.

His barrister told the court last week he had suffered "significant verbal abuse" both on and off the pitch. The lawyer handed Judge Henderson a photograph of a banner bearing the words "Jay Donnelly Paedophile" which was displayed by opposition fans during a match. He said Donnelly was "crushed" by the case and his family have been left "devastated" but have always felt "significant sympathy" for the victim.

"This happened in a heartbeat... it was an ill-thought out act of bravado," he said. Sentencing Donnelly, Judge Henderson said it was an image of a "highly intimate nature" and of "penetrative sexual activity".

She said she found it "inconceivable" that a 21-year-old would not recognise the images may go viral.

However, Judge Henderson pointed out Donnelly had no criminal record and it was clear he had shown remorse for his actions, suffered from a lack of maturity but was of good character.

Passing a sentence of four months in prison, his family broke down in tears in the public gallery.

Donnelly was later released on his own bail of £500 pending appeal against the sentence.

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