Belfast Telegraph

Paddy Jackson is back with the preacher's daughter

She only split with rugby star weeks before fateful night at Ollie's

By Christopher Woodhouse

RUGBY star Paddy Jackson is back in the arms of the lawyer he split with just weeks before being accused of rape, Sunday Life can reveal.

The ex-Ireland and Ulster player is reunited with his long-time girlfriend Laura McCrea three months after he was acquitted of the alleged sex attack at his south Belfast home.

The couple were spotted hand-in-hand during a trip to London last weekend.

Preacher's daughter Ms McCrea had just returned from a holiday in Montenegro where she celebrated her birthday.

The pair had been in a relationship since 2014 but broke-up about a month before the night in June 2016 which saw Jackson and Ulster team-mate Stuart Olding accused of rape.

Now Belfast solicitor Ms McCrea is back by Jackson's side as he tries to rebuild his life in the wake of the high-profile trial which led to his contracts with the IRFU and Ulster being terminated.

At his trial, Jackson's lawyer told how the player's life had been "blighted" for almost two years by the rape allegations.

When approached by Sunday Life Ms McCrea's father, Rev Philip McCrea, said he did not want to comment. "I don't want to talk about that," he said.

Ms McCrea also declined to discuss the matter when contacted by this newspaper.

Rev McCrea is the minister at Rosemary Presbyterian Church in the leafy suburbs off the Antrim Road in north Belfast.

Jackson joined the McCreas at family parties in the manse and posed for pictures shared both by her and her sister on social media during their previous relationship.

Laura shared a loved-up snap of them lying together on a sunlounger on a beach at an exclusive hotel in Barbados.

Ms McCrea attended Rainey Endowed School and Belfast Royal Academy before going on to study law at the University of Ulster.

The 25-year-old now works for a top Belfast law firm having started as a trainee in 2016.

She previously worked at the Hollister clothes shop at Victoria Square in Belfast.

Ms McCrea was dating Jackson until a month before the events of the night of June 28, 2016.

She told a newspaper earlier this year she had "stepped back" from their relationship at the time.

She was also at the Merchant Hotel on the same night while Jackson and his friends were in the venue's basement nightclub, Ollie's.

Earlier that year she joined him on a trip to the five-star Sandy Lane resort in Barbados, owned by racehorse magnate JP McManus, with other members of the Irish rugby team.

Though Jackson and Olding were found not guilty after a nine-week trial, they apologised for their behaviour on the night and for the sexually explicit messages they sent in the days after.

Jackson talked of "spit roasting" during an exchange with Olding in a group chat, referring to how he and Olding had both engaged in sexual activity with the woman.

"I am also truly sorry for engaging in a WhatsApp group chat which was degrading and offensive and I apologise unreservedly for this," said Jackson in the wake of his acquittal. "The criticism of my behaviour is fully justified and I know I have betrayed the values of my family and those of the wider public."

Olding said though he disagreed with the woman's version of events, he was sorry for any hurt he had caused her.

Both Jackson and Olding had their contracts terminated by the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) amid the fallout from the trial.

While the jury quickly returned unanimous not guilty verdicts on Jackson, Olding and two co-accused, there were calls for the pair to be sacked from Ulster and Ireland due to their behaviour on the night in question.

Jackson is due to travel to join top French side Perpignan after signing a two-year deal earlier this month.

The fly-half, who was believed to be earning more than £400,000 with Ulster, is thought to have taken a big cut to join the club based in south-west France.

Olding had already agreed a move to another French club, Brive, two weeks before. Though Ms McCrea declined to talk to Sunday Life about getting back together with Jackson, she has spoken about her relationship with the fly-half.

She told the Irish Mail on Sunday earlier this year that she had "stepped back" from their relationship and had not followed his trial. Not long after their split, Jackson left for a tour of South Africa with the Ireland team.

It was the day after he returned to Belfast from the series that he and Olding, along with friends Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison, went to Ollie's nightclub.

It was outside the club that they met the woman who would later accuse Jackson and Olding of raping her at Jackson's home.

Belfast Telegraph

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