29/11/2018

Man Pleads Guilty To Naming Complainant In Rugby Rape Trial

A man has pleaded guilty to publishing the name of a woman at the centre of a rape trial on social media, making him the first person in Northern Ireland to be prosecuted for the offence.

The guilty plea was entered yesterday, Wednesday 28 November, in relation to the high profile trial involving two former Ireland and Ulster rugby players.

Sean McFarland was fined £300 after being convicted of breaching the lifetime ban on reporting the identity of an alleged victim of a sexual offence.

26-year-old Paddy Jackson and 25-year-old Stuart Olding were both unanimously cleared of raping the woman in March of this year following the nine week trial.

Blane McIlroy, 26, was unanimously cleared of a charge of exposure, while Rory Harrison, 25, was unanimously found not guilty of perverting the course of justice and withholding information at the same trial.

There were concerns over comments posted on social media throughout the 42-day hearing.

The 46-year-old, of Rinnalea Gardens in west Belfast, was charged with publishing her name on a date in February this year in contravention of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992.
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Detective Chief Inspector Zoe McKee from the Public Protection Branch welcomed the conviction and said the PSNI are committed to investigating offences of this nature.

"This is the first time that anyone in Northern Ireland has been prosecuted for breaching this right to anonymity and should act as a deterrent to anyone who names a complainant in any serious sexual offence, who are entitled to lifelong anonymity," DCI McKee said.

"We understand how difficult it can be for anyone to report a rape. I would encourage anyone who has been the victim of any sexual crime either recently or in the past to contact police or to speak to someone about what has happened."

Marianne O'Kane, head of the Public Prosecution Service's Serious Crime Unit, urged social media users to avoid public commentary on any live court proceedings following Wednesday's outcome.

"Complainants of rape and other sexual offences are automatically guaranteed anonymity for life, except in very limited circumstances," she said.

"The public, in particular users of social media, need to be acutely aware of the importance of that right."

Ms O'Kane added: "We would also ask the public to take extreme care when publishing any type of commentary on any live court proceedings, given the potential risk of prejudice to a fair trial."

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