An Ireland rugby player last week acquitted of rape has said he is ashamed that his accuser left his home distressed, and has apologised for engaging in “degrading and offensive” WhatsApp chats.
Paddy Jackson, 26, and his Ireland and Ulster teammate Stuart Olding, 25, were unanimously acquitted at Belfast Crown Court of raping the woman at a party at his south Belfast home in June 2016.
Rallies in solidarity were also held for the woman across Ireland after the not guilty verdict was handed down, attracting hundreds of protesters across the country.
In a statement issued through the Press Association on Friday, Jackson said he would always regret the events of the night in question and that criticism levelled at him was “fully justified”.
Jackson also apologised “unreservedly” for engaging in “degrading and offensive” WhatsApp conversations about the incident.
Jackson’s full statement reads:
“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.
“I am also truly sorry for engaging in a WhatsApp group chat which was degrading and offensive and I apologise unreservedly for this.
“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.”
But many people pointed out that Jackson’s apology was a marked change in tone, and pointed out the heavy-handed tactics his legal team had taken to attempt to silence his critics.
Jackson and Olding have both stated their wish to return to professional rugby, but remain relieved of their duties pending the outcome of a review into their conduct by Ulster Rugby and the Irish Rugby Football Union.
But they face widespread opposition. After a crowdfunding campaign, an advert appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on Friday, demanding that Jackson and Olding never represent Ulster or Ireland again.
“The content of the social media exchanges involving Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding was reprehensible,” the advert reads.
“Such behaviour falls far beneath the standards that your organisations represent and as such we demand that neither of these men represent Ulster or Ireland now or any any point in the future.”
The nine-week rape case was described by Judge Patricia Smith as “the most difficult ... that any jury in Northern Ireland has ever been asked to adjudicate on”.
During the trial a number of WhatsApp messages, involving explicit sexual terminology, were used as evidence.
One comment Olding allegedly wrote said: “It was like a merry-go-around at a carnival”.
Two other men were unanimously acquitted of lesser charges related to the case.
Blane McIlroy, 26, was acquitted of exposure while Rory Harrison, 25, was found not guilty of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.
Rape Crisis Ireland said after the verdict that the protracted case had had a “profound impact” but encouraged survivors of sexual crime to keep coming forward.
Police, meanwhile, paid tribute to the “young woman who had the resolve and confidence to come forward” and told how she had been named on social media, despite having the legal right to lifetime anonymity.