IRELAND and Ulster rugby star Paddy Jackson has spoken for the first time since he was acquitted of rape in Belfast this afternoon.
The fly-half has since been speaking to members of the media, and has released the following brief statement:
“I’d just like to thank the judge for giving me a fair trial," he said.
“And my parents for being here every day, as well as my brothers and sisters.”
“I’d like to thank my barristers…”
“Out of respect for my employers, I’ve nothing further to comment.”
Jackson, 26, along with his teammate Stuart Olding, 24, was acquitted at around 12.30pm of raping a 19-year-old woman in June 2016.
Their friends Blane McIlroy, 26, and Rory Harrison, 25, were found not guilty of exposure and perverting the course of justice respectively.
Jackson’s legal team condemned what they called “vile commentary expressed on social media,” particularly on Twitter.
His solicitor Brendan Kelly QC read the following statement:
"We’ve this to say on behalf of our client Patrick Jackson.
"We’re grateful to the jury for reaching what was a common sense verdict of not guilty on all counts.
"Paddy has been consistent in his denials and in his account. Consistency had never been a feature of the complainant’s evidence, long before she entered the witness box so these acquittals should come as no surprise to anyone.
"Paddy leaves court for the last time today as he entered it almost ten weeks ago - an innocent man.
"The prosecution made much of a perceived privileged position provided by virtue of Paddy being an international rugby player. We say that it was this very status as a famous sportsman that drove the decision to prosecute in the first place.
"Much has been said in the course of this trial by way of criticism of the police investigation. We’ve little to add to what’s already been said.
"But it’s our belief that the investigation has been characterised by the turning of a blind eye to inadequacies in the evidence of the complainant combined with very apparent investigative bias.
"Paddy and his parents have paid a heavy price, personally, professionally and financially.
"On the face of it, this robust assertion of its independence by the jury embodied in these acquittals for all four men may suggest that the trial process is in good health.
"That is not the case. Vile commentary expressed on social media going well beyond fair comment has polluted this sphere of public discourse and raised real concerns about the integrity of the trial process.
"To that end, we want to thank the learned trial judge Patricia Smyth for her management of this trial in the face of an onslaught of toxic content, particularly on Twitter.
"Several days of this trial were lost due to problems thrown up by the intrusive infection of the process by social media.
"All the lawyers have been distracted by having to man the barriers against the flood of misinformed, misconceived and malicious content on the internet, particularly during the last phase of this trial. Worryingly even at the hands of public servants who should have known better.
"There’s no reason to believe that this problem will not worsen. To that end, we invite the Office of the Lord Chief Justice, the Attorney General and the Public Prosecution Service to enter into fresh discussions with us to look at more robust mechanisms that can strike an effective balance between everyone’s rights but that properly secure the integrity of our criminal justice system.
"As for Paddy, his main priority now is to return to work. That means getting back on the rugby pitch and representing his province and his country.
"Thank you. And there will be no questions."