Friday 27 April 2018

'It is a difficult situation' - Ulster coach Jono Gibbes on rugby rape trial

Jono Gibbes said he was focused on his job (Mike Egerton/PA)
Jono Gibbes said he was focused on his job (Mike Egerton/PA)
Independent.ie Newsdesk

Independent.ie Newsdesk

A rugby coach whose players were cleared of rape following a high-profile trial said it had been a "difficult time".

Ulster Rugby is holding a review after star performers and Irish internationals Paddy Jackson, 26, and Stuart Olding, 25, were unanimously acquitted last week.

Ireland and Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding (Niall Carson/PA)
Ireland and Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding (Niall Carson/PA)

The case has excited enormous media and public comment.

Coach Jono Gibbes said: “My personal experience of the last few weeks has been a bit frustrating really.”

He said it was a new situation for him.

“It is a difficult situation but I cannot control any of that stuff and there’s people with a hugely significant level of expertise to deal with things and that is their department.”

He said he was focused on his job.

Social media usage by members of the public has been a major issue after the trial.

Gibbes said he did not enforce social media policy at the team but acknowledged the impact of months of legal proceedings.

He added: “It has been part of the group if you like for 21 months.”

Paddy Jackson (left) and his solicitor Joe McVeigh outside Belfast Crown Court. Photo: PA
Paddy Jackson (left) and his solicitor Joe McVeigh outside Belfast Crown Court. Photo: PA

Ulster player Louis Ludik said they were aware of the trial.

“It is impossible not to be aware of it, all we can control is the rugby, we have to be focused on the rugby itself. Everyone has a different opinion, all we can do is focus on the rugby.”

Thousands of people have attended rallies to demonstrate following the outcome of the trial.

Demonstrations were held in several cities across Ireland including Dublin, Belfast, Galway and Cork.

On Thursday Jackson’s legal team said defamation proceedings were being launched against Irish senator Aodhan O’Riordain over social media comments he made about the rugby international’s acquittal.

The Twitter post was subsequently deleted.

However, news of the civil suit sparked a social media backlash with a campaign #SueMeTooPaddy gaining huge traction on Twitter.

Meanwhile, it also emerged that online comments posted by a juror in the rugby rape trial are being investigated by Northern Ireland’s Attorney General.

Two other people have been questioned by police in Northern Ireland in relation to naming the complainant in the case online.

In other post-verdict developments a number of media outlets are challenging reporting restrictions still placed on the case.

Jackson was also found not guilty of sexual assault.

Two other men were acquitted of lesser charges related to the same incident in June 2016.

Blane McIlroy, 26, was acquitted of exposure while Rory Harrison, 25, was found not guilty of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

The high-profile trial, which ran for 42 days, generated an unprecedented level of public attention and prompted calls from Jackson’s defence solicitor for a crackdown on social media comment during criminal proceedings.

It has also renewed the debate on whether defendants in rape trials should also be entitled to anonymity, with their names only being revealed if they are convicted.

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