Rory Best 'was willing' to take stand as character witness at rugby rape trial
Rugby captain was 'no longer needed' by Jackson's legal team
Irish rugby captain Rory Best was willing to appear as a character witness for his friend and team-mate Paddy Jackson if Mr Jackson's legal team had called upon him during the trial.
The reason for the sportsman's non-appearance in the stand has been shrouded in mystery since Mr Best attended Belfast Crown Court when his Irish and Ulster team-mates Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were standing trial for rape. Both men were subsequently found not guilty on all charges.
When a nationwide backlash occurred and hashtags such as #notmycaptain, #shouldertoshoulderwithher and #boycottirishrugby began circulating on social media, Mr Best told reporters: "The reason I was there, it's on the record I was called as a character witness, and I was advised that it is important that I got both sides of the story so I could make an informed decision about that," he said.
But he never did give evidence about Mr Jackson's character, and the Sunday Independent can now reveal the reason for his non-attendance.
A source close to the player said it was not because Mr Best backed down to pressure from angry fans, nor was he threatened by sponsors. The actual reason was because he was "no longer needed" by Mr Jackson's legal team.
The source said: "Rory was willing to attend the trial. It had nothing to do with sponsors or the reaction to his [initial] appearance at the trial. It was simply down to the fact that he was no longer needed by Paddy's legal team. He was never called."
The source added: "Rory is a very strong-minded person. He is his own man. He would not be deterred by any outside influence."
Mr Jackson (26), of Oakleigh Park, Belfast, was found not guilty on all charges.
His co-defendants, Ulster player Stuart Olding, was charged with one count of rape on the same occasion; former Ulster Academy player Blane McIlroy was charged with indecent exposure; while ex- Belfast Harlequins player Rory Harrison was accused of perverting the course of justice and withholding information. All were also found not guilty on all charges.
Mr Best, along with his international team-mate Iain Henderson, who also turned up at the trial, did not seek permission or inform the IRFU of their intention to attend Belfast Crown Court.
Ireland coach Joe Schmidt was also not asked for his permission by Mr Best and Mr Henderson before they travelled to Belfast Crown Court and were subsequently photographed.
But Mr Best later explained to reporters that he attended on a rest day from camp. "We don't need permission to do stuff on our own time," he said.