herald

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Jackson and Olding should be back in the team, say Ulster fans

Players Paddy Jackson (pictured) and Stuart Olding were both acquitted of rape
Players Paddy Jackson (pictured) and Stuart Olding were both acquitted of rape
Stuart Olding

Ulster Rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have been backed for a return to play for the province by an independent supporters' group.

The pair were both acquitted of all charges following a rape trial in Belfast last month.

However, neither have represented Ireland or Ulster since being charged by the PSNI in June 2016.

They both remain suspended by Ulster Rugby and the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) - which is conducting an internal investigation into WhatsApp messages sent by the pair and used as evidence during the trial.

A statement released by chairman of the Ulster Rugby Supporters' Club (URSC) Jonathan Bill said that many fans have indicated that if the players are not reinstated for selection, it would "strongly influence" whether they decide to renew their season ticket.

Doubts

It also said it had no part in an advertisement taken out in the Belfast Telegraph last week, which called for both players not to be selected for their province or country again.

"The URSC can confirm that it had no part in this advertisement and doubts that any of the 139 who contributed financially to this advertisement are amongst its membership," the statement read.

"The URSC can further confirm that it has received no calls from its membership for the aforementioned players to be banned from playing for Ulster, on the contrary, the vast majority of members have made it clear they wish to see their early reinstatement to playing duties.

"Indeed many have made it clear that if this is not the case it will strongly influence their decision on season ticket renewal or their future Kingspan attendance.

"URSC is concerned that if such is the case, the numbers involved could impact adversely on support for the team and income for Ulster Rugby through the ticket sales."

A petition has also been set up for both players to return to the Ulster Rugby fold.

The Change.org petition, entitled "Get Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding back playing for Ulster Rugby", is calling for Ulster Rugby to show their support for the players following the high-profile trial.

It said the players have "not broken any sporting rules and therefore need to be back playing in Ulster shirts as soon as possible".

The petition had amassed more than 11,500 signatures as of yesterday evening. Although a different petition, calling for an IRFU review of the pair, has been signed 68,000 times.

In a separate development, a judge is to consider whether reporting restrictions should be lifted. Judge Patricia Smyth said she would hear legal arguments tomorrow.

A lawyer for Mr Jackson said there was concern the human rights of the defendants could be impacted.

The purpose of reporting restrictions is to prevent a jury being prejudiced by material heard in its absence. Such restrictions usually end after a jury has delivered its verdict and been discharged.

After the verdict, several media organisations objected to Judge Smyth continuing restrictions post-trial.

Judge Smyth refused to hear the application and postponed the matter until April 25.

Consensual

Following this adjournment, the media made an application for an expedited hearing date.

Two weeks ago, Mr Jackson (26) and Mr Olding (25) were acquitted of raping a then 19-year-old student during a party in June 2016. Mr Jackson was also cleared of sexually assaulting the same woman.

The men had always maintained the sexual activity was consensual.

Blane McIlroy (26) was cleared of exposure and Rory Harrison (25) was found not guilty of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

An application came before Judge Smyth yesterday to lift reporting restrictions.

Gerry Simpson QC, representing the media, said there was "no basis" for the continuation of restrictions.

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