Cam­paign­ers ap­plaud sack­ing of rape trial pair

Spon­sor raised con­cerns with Ul­ster chief Lo­gan France and Ja­pan are likely des­ti­na­tions for the play­ers

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Ben Rumsby SPORTS NEWS COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Cam­paign­ers against sex­ual vi­o­lence yes­ter­day ap­plauded the sack­ings by Ire­land and Ul­ster of Paddy Jack­son and Stu­art Old­ing, amid the ac­ri­mo­nious fall­out from the play­ers’ rape trial.

The Ir­ish Rugby Foot­ball Union and their club con­firmed the pair’s de­par­ture fol­low­ing an in­ter­nal re­view into their con­duct launched in the wake of their ac­quit­tal last month at Belfast Crown Court. It is be­lieved spon­sors played a key role in the de­ci­sion.

Team-mate Craig Gil­roy was also sus­pended un­til April 26 over a sex­u­ally-ex­plicit What­sApp mes­sage used as ev­i­dence in Jack­son and Old­ing’s nine-week trial. The pair were sacked af­ter other such mes­sages were ex­posed dur­ing the case, in­clud­ing one in which the lat­ter wrote: “There was a lot of spitroast­ing go­ing on last night fel­las.”

The Belfast Fem­i­nist Net­work, which mounted a Fri­day-night demon­stra­tion out­side Ul­ster’s sta­dium ahead of their first home game since the trial, said: “We are pleased to hear that those play­ers who have ex­posed them­selves as misog­y­nis­tic will no longer be rep­re­sent­ing Ul­ster Rugby. We see this as a vic­tory for all the peo­ple who joined with us to say that they could not ac­cept any­thing less than full ac­count­abil­ity.

“Ul­ster Rugby has work to do if it wants to con­vince us that they will take ac­tion against sex­ism and en­sure things like this do not hap­pen again. We look for­ward to hear­ing how they in­tend to do this.” Con­firm­ing both play­ers’ con­tracts had been re­voked with im­me­di­ate ef­fect, the IRFU and Ul­ster said they “ac­knowl­edge our re­spon­si­bil­ity and com­mit­ment to the core val­ues of the game: Re­spect, In­clu­siv­ity and In­tegrity”.

The de­ci­sion was an­nounced two days af­ter one of the club’s big­gest spon­sors, Bank of Ire­land, re­vealed it had raised con­cerns re­lated to the out­come of the play­ers’ trial with Ul­ster chief ex­ec­u­tive Shane Lo­gan. An­other, sta­dium spon­sor Kingspan, was also said to have ex­pressed reser­va­tions. It fol­lowed huge demon­stra­tions in Belfast, Lon­don­derry, Cork, Lim­er­ick, Gal­way, Dublin and Lon­don in re­sponse to the not-guilty ver­dict, with protesters marching un­der plac­ards pro­claim­ing the hash­tag #IBelieveHer.

Those want­ing Jack­son and Old­ing to be sacked also took out a prom­i­nent news­pa­per ad­vert, which was coun­tered last week by one funded by more than 100 Ul­ster sup­port­ers call­ing for the pair to be re­in­stated and at­tack­ing “the so­cial me­dia back­lash” against the men. What was an in­tense de­bate on the play­ers’ fu­tures was also played out on­line, with thou­sands of peo­ple sign­ing com­pet­ing pe­ti­tions re­flect­ing their views.

Re­spond­ing to his sack­ing, Jack­son said he was “deeply dis­ap­pointed”, be­fore adding: “How­ever, I recog­nise that my be­hav­iour has fallen far short of the val­ues ex­pected of me as an in­ter­na­tional player, a role model for the game of rugby and as a son and a brother. I am truly sorry.” Old­ing added: “I said out­side court that the Stu­art Old­ing that you read about in the trial is not the real Stu­art Old­ing.

“With the sup­port of my fam­ily and friends, I shall seek new chal­lenges else­where. I bear no one any ill will.

“I am very sorry that this day has come to pass.”

Capped 25 times and four times re­spec­tively, 26-year-old Jack­son and 25-year-old Old­ing have been tipped to try to res­ur­rect their ca­reers in France or Ja­pan. Any in­ter­est from within the Bri­tish Isles, in­clud­ing from Premier­ship clubs, is likely to be met with a fu­ri­ous back­lash.

In a nine-week trial that gripped North­ern Ire­land, a jury of eight men and three women unan­i­mously found the play­ers not guilty of rap­ing a wo­man at a house party at Jack­son’s home in June 2016 af­ter de­lib­er­at­ing for three hours and 45 min­utes.

Jack­son was also cleared of sex­ual as­sault, while two other men, Blane McIl­roy, 26, and Rory Har­ri­son, 25, were unan­i­mously ac­quit­ted of lesser charges con­nected to the case.

Protest: Mem­bers of the Belfast Fem­i­nist Net­work demon­strate against Stu­art Old­ing (in­set left) and Paddy Jack­son (in­set right) out­side Ul­ster’s ground

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