Paddy Jackson’s apology may be a case of too little, too late

Rugby player expresses regret for ‘degrading’ messages, but it rings hollow

Nine days after he was acquitted of rape and sexual assault, Paddy Jackson has said he is ashamed that the complainant in the trial, a "visitor to my home", left in a "distressed state".

Jackson and his Ireland and Ulster teammate Stuart Olding were unanimously acquitted in Belfast Crown Court on March 28th of raping the then 19-year-old on a night in June 2016.

To his credit, Olding was quick to express his sorrow “for the hurt that was caused to the complainant.” He didn’t agree with her perception of events, he said in a handwritten note read out by his solicitor immediately after the verdict. But he “regretted deeply” the events of that evening.

Jackson, however, needed more time for a similar sense of regret to percolate. Nine days more.


‘Degrading and offensive’

The statement he made on Friday could not be more different, in tone or content, than the one read out by his solicitor last week, in the immediate aftermath of the verdict.

Where that first statement was full of indignation and fury – at the police investigation, at the “vile”, “malicious” and “misinformed” commentary on social media – Friday’s brimmed with regret and self-immolation for “the events” of that night; for the “degrading and offensive” Whatsapp group chats he participated in; for “betraying the values of my family and those of the wider public”.

“The criticism of my behaviour is fully justified,” Jackson added – a surprising admission from someone whose legal team was, only a week ago, threatening to examine carefully every item on social media and sue anyone who “deliberately or otherwise, sees fit to attack our client”.

He also said: “I am ashamed that a young woman who was a visitor to my home left in a distressed state. This was never my intention and I will always regret the events of that evening.”

By contrast, in the 464 words of the statement made on the steps of the court by Jackson’s solicitor, Joe McVeigh, there were just two brief mentions of the complainant, both critical: “Consistency had never been a feature of the complainant’s evidence long before she entered the witness box. So these acquittals should come as no surprise.”

Two days later, Jackson's law firm was firing off an even angrier missive, saying it had issued proceedings against Aodhán Ó Ríordáin for a tweet he posted in the aftermath of the verdict and would sue anyone else who made similar comments about their client.

Legally, Jackson was perfectly within his rights to seek to protect his name after he had been fully vindicated by the courts. But as a PR move, it was an unmitigated disaster.

In the week that has passed since the second statement, as thousands of people march in Dublin and Belfast chanting “Sue me, Paddy”, and his Ulster rugby career hangs in the balance, Jackson has apparently had a complete change of heart.

Family values

In his statement on Friday he expressed his “resolute commitment” to return to his family values. “Following the trial I have taken time to reflect with my family on the values that were such an integral part of my upbringing, the most important of which is respect. My departure from these values has caused understandable public anger and I am resolutely committed to returning to those principles.”

As an expression of shame and regret, it is almost note perfect. Contrite. Wholehearted. It mentions family values. It acknowledges the public anger. He “apologises unreservedly” and is “truly sorry”. But nine days later, with the strength of that anger showing no sign of dissipating, it was always going to come across as a bit hollow.

Is an apology a week on better than no apology at all?

There is one person whose view really matters – the complainant in the rape trial; the young woman who left his house in tears. Only she knows whether it has made any difference to her.

From a PR standpoint, and as a means of deflecting public criticism, it runs the risk of seeming too little, too late, and far too calculated.