Ireland rugby stars Jackson and Olding charged with rape
Two Ireland international and Ulster rugby stars have been charged with rape.
Paddy Jackson (25) and Stuart Olding (24) have both strenuously denied the offence, which is alleged to have happened in south Belfast on June 28 last year.
The Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby said they took the allegations "extremely seriously" and announced both players would be "relieved of their duties and obligations" until the conclusion of the court process.
Given the length of time court proceedings take in Northern Ireland, it is likely both will miss the entirety of the coming season.
The men were arrested and questioned last summer. They were released pending a report being submitted to prosecutors in Northern Ireland.
The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has said four men questioned in relation to the incident have been charged.
Jackson and Olding are charged with rape.
Another man is accused of sexual offences, while the fourth faces counts of withholding information and perverting the course of justice.
Summons were served on the men on Monday and they are due to appear in court to face the charges next month.
Lawyers for Jackson and Olding stressed the men denied the charges.
Jackson's solicitor said: "We are very disappointed at the decision of the PPS to prosecute. Our client rejects completely the allegations made against him and we are confident he will be exonerated in due course."
Olding's solicitor said his client was determined to prove his innocence.
"It is disappointing that over a year since the original allegation was made the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland has now issued a decision to prosecute," he said.
"My client has co-operated fully with the police investigation and is a man of impeccable good character."
A PPS spokesman said, following a "careful review of all of the available evidence" and in accordance with its code for prosecutors, it had been decided there was "sufficient evidence to prosecute four individuals".
The IRFU and Ulster Rugby said they were aware that Jackson and Olding had been charged "in relation to serious allegations made against them".
"The players have co-operated fully and strenuously deny the charges," said the statement.
"The IRFU and Ulster Rugby take these allegations extremely seriously. To allow the players time to address this matter fully, the IRFU and Ulster Rugby have agreed that they will be relieved of their duties and obligations until the conclusion of this process.
"Appropriate support structures will be put in place with them during this time. As this is a matter for the Public Prosecution Service it would be inappropriate to comment further."