Two Irish rugby stars and two of their friends have been found not guilty of charges of rape, indecent exposure and perverting the course of justice.
The jury of eight men and three women at Belfast Laganside court found the Ireland rugby internationals Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding not guilty of raping a woman in 2016.
After a nine-week trial, the jury found the pair’s friend Blane McIlroy not guilty of one count of indecent exposure. The jurors also ruled that Rory Harrison was not guilty of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.
The court was filled with the families and friends of the four men and there were emotional scenes after the unanimous verdicts were announced. Outside the court the four men’s relatives and friends hugged and kissed them.
There was a delay in releasing Olding from the glass box/dock area where the men have listened to nine weeks of testimony. He was held back over clarification of legal aid that was granted to him.
The other three men and their supporters waited until the procedure was over and Olding, too, was able to walk free.
The jury took three hours and 45 minutes to acquit all the men of any wrongdoing.
Their lawyers said the sporting careers of Jackson and Olding had been “blighted” by false rape claims.
Judge Patricia Smith thanked the jurors and said they would be exempt from jury service for life. “This has probably been the most difficult trial that any jury in Northern Ireland has ever been asked to adjudicate on,” she said.
A joint statement from the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby said Jackson and Olding were still relieved of all duties until a review process into their contracts is carried out following the trial.