Ireland and Ulster Rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have been acquitted of raping a 19-year-old Belfast student, following less than four hours of jury deliberations.
Their friend Blane McIlroy was acquitted of exposing himself to the woman and Rory Harrison was found not guilty of two counts of attempting to cover for his friends afterwards by misleading police and withholding information.
The woman alleged Mr Jackson had vaginally raped her while Mr Olding orally raped her in Mr Jackson’s bedroom during a nightclub after-party. She alleged Mr McIlroy then entered the room naked, thrust his penis at her and said: “You f***ed those lads. Why not me?”
All three men said the woman performed consensual oral sex on them and denied any intercourse took place.
The now 21-year-old complainant said Mr Harrison dropped her home and comforted her. She said she had no complaint with Mr Harrison but police alleged he withheld information and deleted messages from his phone in an attempt to protect his friends.
At 12.20pm yesterday, on day 42 of the trial, the jury of eight men and three women passed a note to Judge Patricia Smyth stating it had a verdict.
The judge informed the court she would not tolerate any public outbursts before the forewoman announced not guilty verdicts on all counts.
Judge Smyth thanked the jurors for their commitment to the case. "This has probably been the most difficult trial that any jury in Northern Ireland has had to sit on," she said.
Outside court, Mr Jackson emerged with his solicitor to make a short statement to the gathered reporters thanking the judge and jury.
His solicitor Joe McVeigh made a much longer statement, criticising the complainant, the police and social media.
“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,” he said.
“It is our belief that this investigation has been characterised by a blind eye being turned to the inadequacies in the evidence of the complainant combined with apparent investigative bias.”
Mr McVeigh also criticised the “vile commentary expressed on social media” which he said “has polluted the sphere of public discourse and raised real concerns about the integrity of the trial process”.
He said Mr Jackson’s main priority now was to resume playing for his province and country.
The IRFU released a short statement later “noting” the verdict and stating a review will be conducted into the men’s behaviour. In the meantime, they will not play for Ireland.
Mr Olding also released a short statement in which he said, though no criminal offence took place, he wanted to apologise to the complainant.
“I want to acknowledge that the complainant came to court and gave evidence about her perception of those events.
“I am sorry for the hurt that was caused to the complainant. It was never my intention to cause any upset to anyone on that night.”
Later PSNI Det Chief Supt Paula Hilman said the complainant was "upset and disappointed" with the verdict but had not expressed any regrets about proceeding with the case.
The officer said she was disappointed at comments the trial would deter victims of rape from coming forward, adding that the PSNI had received a higher than average number of complaints since the trial began.
She also rejected Mr McVeigh’s assertion that the decision to prosecute Mr Jackson was driven by the fact he was a well-known figure. “We carry out investigations regardless of standing or status,” she said.