'There are no winners here': Police hope trial result does not deter victims from coming forward
Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding found not guilty of raping young student at a party
Mr Jackson (26) also found not guilty of sexual assault
Blane McIlroy (26) found not guilty of exposure, while Rory Harrison (25) was acquitted of perverting the course of justice and withholding information
After nine weeks of evidence, jury took just three hours and 45 minutes to reach a verdict
Olding statement after verdict: 'I'm sorry for hurt caused'
Police hope result of trial does not deter victims coming forward
Police in Northern Ireland say they hope the result of the rape trial of rugby stars Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding does not deter victims from coming forward.
Both men were found not guilty of raping a young student at a party at Mr Jackson's Belfast home in June 2016. Mr Jackson (26) was also found not guilty of sexual assault.
Blane McIlroy (26) was found not guilty of exposure, while Rory Harrison (25) was acquitted of perverting the course of justice and withholding information. After nine weeks of evidence, the jury took just three hours and 45 minutes to reach a verdict.
Speaking after the verdict, PSNI Detective Chief Inspector Zoe McKee said: "There are no winners here. We do not want the decision in today's verdict to deter victims from coming forward. And I think it's very, very important.
"This case was unprecedented. It was a case that has never been heard before, the complexity, the volume, the scale...so I would encourage everybody who wants to make a report to police to come forward."
The complainant was said by police to be "upset and disappointed" at the verdict.
Mr Olding (25) said he was "sorry for the hurt that was caused" to the young woman. Reiterating he had committed no criminal offence, he said: "I regret deeply the events of that evening."
Mr Jackson's legal team claimed his status as "a famous sportsman" was behind the decision to prosecute him.
Meanwhile, a privacy lawsuit being taken by both rugby players against the BBC will now go ahead following their acquittal at Belfast Crown Court. The action, initiated in 2016 after their identities were reported prior to them being charged, had been put on hold pending the outcome of the rape trial.
Following yesterday's verdict, a solicitor representing Mr Jackson confirmed the action would now go ahead.
The civil suit was filed after the identities of the two rugby players were reported prior to them being charged.
Both men issued writs against the BBC seeking damages for misuse of private information after details were published in an online news article on November 1, 2016, months before charges were brought against them.
The report named the two players and said they were two of three men questioned about alleged sex offences at a property in Belfast on June 28, 2016. It said they were arrested that June but details had just emerged.
The lawsuit alleges negligence, breach of statutory duty and nuisance.
In a statement at the time, Mr Jackson's solicitor said he and his client were both disappointed and concerned that the information had been "leaked to the press" before the investigation had concluded and well in advance of any final decision on a charge.
In their civil action, Mr Jackson and Mr Olding contend their arrests were a private matter and they were not given sufficient notice for a right of reply before the article appeared.
Lawyers for the two players also raised issues over how the information was obtained by the BBC.
The case was last before the Belfast High Court last October, when it was adjourned.
The civil proceedings had been the subject of reporting restrictions which prevented them being named, but this was lifted in June last year when the players confirmed they were no longer seeking anonymity.
Mr Jackson has also initiated a separate civil action against a freelance sports journalist and persons unknown in the Police Service of Northern Ireland.
But details of this case have yet to be outlined in court.
Speaking outside Belfast Crown Court, after he was acquitted of rape and sexual assault, Mr Jackson said: "I'd just like to thank the judge and the jury for giving me a fair trial, my parents for being here every day, as well as my brother and sisters."
He also thanked his barristers and solicitors.
"Out of respect for my employers I've nothing further to comment," he said.
His solicitor, Joe McVeigh, read a detailed statement, which included criticism of the police investigation and also much of the commentary of the trial on social media.
"Paddy has been consistent in his denials and in his account," he said.
"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 to anyone.
"Paddy leaves court for the last time today as he entered almost 10 weeks ago - an innocent man.
"The prosecution made much of the perceived privileged position provided by virtue of Paddy being an international rugby player.
"We say that it was this very status as a famous sportsman that drove the decision to prosecute in the first place.
"Much has been said in the course of this trial by way of criticism of the police investigation.
"We've little to add to what's already been said, but it's our belief that the investigation has been characterised by the turning of a blind eye to inadequacies in the evidence of the complainant combined with very apparent investigative bias."
However, the North's Public Prosecution Service has defended its decision to bring a prosecution.
Marianne O'Kane, Public Prosecution Service Assistant Director and Head of the PPS's Serious Crime Unit, said that the evidence in the case was "subjected to a very thorough and careful examination by a team of experienced lawyers" before they concluded that "the test for prosecution was met", in line with its code for prosecutors.
"This meant that there was both sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction and it was in the public interest to prosecute.
"This case was properly brought before the courts and overcame a number of legal challenges", she said.
Mr McVeigh added that his client and his client's family have been through a hugely-difficult period.
"Paddy and his parents have paid a heavy price - personally, professionally and financially.
"This price was paid despite the fact that he has never been anything other than entirely innocent."
He referred to "vile commentary expressed on social media" which he said "has polluted this sphere of public discourse and raised real concerns about the integrity of the trial process".
The priority for his client, Paddy Jackson, now is to return to work, he added. "That means getting back on the rugby pitch," Mr McVeigh said.
However, the IRFU and Ulster Rugby issued a statement following the verdict, saying that Mr Jackson and Mr Olding will continue to be "relieved of their duties" as a review is conducted.
"We wish to acknowledge that this has undoubtedly been a difficult and extremely traumatic time for all involved," it read.
"To respect the judicial proceedings, the IRFU and Ulster Rugby postponed any internal review of the matter with the players, until the proceedings concluded.
"IRFU and Ulster Rugby officials will review the matter, in line with existing procedures for all contracted players. A Review Committee, made up of senior representatives of the IRFU and Ulster Rugby, has been appointed and will conclude its review as soon as practicable. The players will continue to be relieved of all duties while the Review Committee is in process and determining its findings."
Stuart Olding's lawyer also read out a statement.
"I am sorry for the hurt that was caused to the complainant," he said.
"It was never my intention to cause any upset to anyone on that night. I don't agree with her perception of events and I maintain that everything that happened on that evening was consensual.
"I have consistently told the truth to the police and the court when asked to account for my condict."
Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison declined to speak to the waiting media.
Nine week trial
In total, 30 witnesses gave evidence including the four defendants and the complainant whose testimony was heard over eight separate days, and verdicts were returned on day 42.
The court heard from 10 police officers, two doctors, a forensic scientist and a taxi driver who had driven the complainant home on the night in question.
When the trial opened on January 30, a total of 12 jurors were sworn in - nine men and three women.
But about halfway through the panel was reduced to 11 after one juror was discharged because of illness.
During the nine-week trial, Mr Jackson (26) from Oakleigh Park, Belfast, and Mr Olding (25) of Ardenlee Street in the city, had denied raping the same woman at a house in south Belfast on 28 June 2016.
Mr Jackson denied a further charge of sexual assault.
Mr McIlroy (26) of Royal Lodge Road, Belfast, had denied exposure while Mr Harrison (25) of Manse Road, denied perverting the course of justice and withholding information.