Irish rugby player cleared of rape says he feels shame and regret

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One of the Irish rugby international players acquitted of rape has released a statement of apology, after campaigners paid for a full-page advert in the Belfast Telegraph calling for both men to be dropped from their teams.

In a statement released on Friday afternoon, Paddy Jackson expressed sorrow and shame over his behaviour towards the woman who accused him and team-mate Stuart Olding of rape. Both men were acquitted in a Belfast court last month.

Jackson said he would “always regret” the events that took place at a party at his home in June 2016. He also apologised for lewd sexual messages he sent on a WhatsApp group in connection with that party, which were read out during the trial. “I am ashamed that a young woman who was a visitor to my home left in a distressed state. This was never my intention and I will always regret the events of that evening,” Jackson said.

His apology was released on the same day as the advert, which said: “The content of the social media exchanges involving Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding was reprehensible. Such behaviour falls far beneath the standards that your organisations represent. As such we demand that neither of these men represents Ulster or Ireland now or at any point in the future.”

The 26-year-old said he accepted that the WhatsApp messages he sent were “degrading and offensive”. In an interview with the Press Association, Jackson said: “The criticism of my behaviour is fully justified and I know I have betrayed the values of my family and those of the wider public. Following the trial I have taken time to reflect with my family on the values that were such an integral part of my upbringing, the most important of which is respect.

“My departure from these values has caused understandable public anger and I am resolutely committed to returning to those principles.”

Jackson and his Ulster rugby colleague Olding, 25, were unanimously acquitted by a jury of raping the same woman at a party in Jackson’s south Belfast home almost two years ago. Jackson was also acquitted of sexual assault.

Their friend Blane McIlroy was found not guilty of indecent exposure while another friend, Rory Harrison, was acquitted of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

Both Olding and Jackson have expressed a desire to return to playing professional rugby. However, Ulster rugby and the Irish Rugby Football Union continue to suspend the pair from their duties while a review is conduced into their behaviour.

The advertisement demanding the pair be dropped was paid for by crowdfunding. The campaigners behind the message raised £2,115, which was £115 more than the cost of the full-page ad in the paper that devotes extensive coverage to Ulster.

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