Northern Ireland

Afghanistan-bound soldier accused of Belfast rape

Palace Barracks
Image caption Mr Eliason's address was given as Palace Barracks in Holywood

A soldier due to be sent to Afghanistan must stand trial accused of raping a woman in Belfast, a judge has ruled.

Francis Eliason faces charges connected to an alleged attack at a nightclub in the city last September.

The 29-year-old soldier, whose address was given as Palace Barracks, Holywood, faces two counts of rape and one of sexual assault.

Mr Eliason, who is understood to be a member of the Mercian Regiment, was released on continuing bail of £500.

During a preliminary enquiry hearing at Belfast Magistrates' Court he declined to say anything in response to the charges or call witnesses at this stage.

District Judge Fiona Bagnall granted a prosecution application to have him returned for Crown Court trial on a date to be fixed.

His solicitor told the court: "He is due to be deployed to Afghanistan in the early part of October."

Judge Bagnall was also informed that the lawyer was coming off record at this stage as part of the continuing dispute over legal aid fees.

She told Mr Eliason that he should take steps to obtain new representation and provide an address at which he can be contacted.