Footballer jailed for sharing photo of sex with girl (16)

Judge says actions of Irish League player Jay Donnelly were ‘completely unacceptable’

District Judge Amanda Henderson told Jay Donnelly (23) he had committed an extreme abuse of trust by sending an image which then went viral. File photograph: Jonathan Porter/Presseye/Inpho

District Judge Amanda Henderson told Jay Donnelly (23) he had committed an extreme abuse of trust by sending an image which then went viral. File photograph: Jonathan Porter/Presseye/Inpho

 

Irish League footballer Jay Donnelly has been jailed for four months for distributing a photo of himself having sex with a 16-year-old girl while she wore his team’s shirt.

Belfast Magistrates’ Court heard the Cliftonville striker shared the image with a friend and to 10 other players in a WhatsApp group.

District Judge Amanda Henderson told the 23-year-old that he had committed an extreme abuse of trust by sending the image, which then went viral.

“I find this such a gross invasion of privacy that there’s only one sentence, and that is one of immediate custody,” she ruled.

Donnelly, of Ardilea Drive in the Ardoyne area of Belfast, has also been placed on the sex offenders’ register. He had pleaded guilty to distributing an indecent photo of a child on a date unknown between June and October 2016.

A separate charge of taking or making an indecent image was withdrawn.

Prosecutors said the victim had consented to being photographed in her underwear and Donnelly’s Cliftonville top at an address in Belfast.

But he then took another picture of her, still in the shirt, while they had consensual sex.

Despite asking Donnelly to delete it, she started getting Facebook messages from strangers four months later.

With adults shouting abuse at her in the street, she was said to have been left humiliated by the image being shared on social media.

During police interviews in October that year Donnelly admitted taking the photo and sharing it with friends.

‘Completely unacceptable’

Defence counsel Michael Chambers said the footballer is “crushed” by what he had done.

“This was not a malicious act on his part, it was impetuous and stupid, a young man acting out in bravado and boasting to his friends,” the barrister said. “He never wanted this to be widely known to the public.”

Judge Henderson was told Donnelly has been assessed as having a borderline learning disability, with an IQ in the bottom 8 per cent of the population.

His previously “exemplary” playing career, in which he was seen as a role model, is now under serious threat, Mr Chambers said.

He said Donnelly, who continued to appear for Cliftonville after the allegations emerged, endured taunts and abuse from rival fans unfurling banners and branding him a paedophile.

But following his conviction last November the club dropped him from the team.

“He’s acutely aware that as a result of his conduct his future at Cliftonville and his future as a professional footballer in general is in jeopardy,” counsel submitted.

In mitigation, he said the defendant confessed as soon as he entered a PSNI station, and has expressed genuine remorse for the distress and humiliation caused to the victim.

The barrister disclosed how Donnelly told police: “I know I’m in the wrong... but I actually feel for the girl and what I have put her through.”

However, the judge rejected suggestions that community service would be the appropriate sentence.

“This is completely unacceptable behaviour, with the distress and abuse the injured party has suffered in the last couple of years.”

Donnelly is to be released on bail pending an appeal against the sentence.