Northern Ireland

NI Newspaper review: Rugby trial, RHI and the Blitz Baby

News Letter Front Page 17/04 Image copyright News Letter

The fall-out from the rugby rape trial continues to dominate the news in Northern Ireland.

The Irish News leads with a call from a victim support charity for "a full and formal review" of how sexual violence cases are handled by the criminal justice system.

An open letter from Victim Support NI features in a double-page spread.

It says that the legal system, however unintentionally, can leave those who bring a complaint forward "invisible and voiceless".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The careers of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have been under intense scrutiny since they were acquitted of rape

The letter says that media reporting and public comment can portray them in a "wholly inappropriate" light, facing judgements that "shame and blame".

The rugby rape trial in which Ireland and Ulster Internationals Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were found not guilty of raping the same woman is not directly referenced.

But the group says that "given recent public interest", now is the time for change.

Victim Support NI has written to both the Lord Chief Justice and the Department of Justice.

The open letter in the Irish News is signed by Victim Support NI, Nexus NI, the Women's Aid Federation of NI and the Men's Advisory Project.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Sir Declan Morgan is considering how courts can respond to the issues raised by the rugby rape trial

The Irish News reports that Lord Chief Justice Declan Morgan has started discussions with the trial judge and other senior judges to consider whether there are any other steps that courts can take that do not require legislation to deal with some of the issues raised by the rape trial.

It was announced on Saturday that Mr Olding and Mr Jackson would leave Ulster Rugby after having their contracts revoked.

The Irish News reports that they are still searching for a new club with no team publicly admitting interest in them.

The paper reports that there has been speculation of a possible link-up with London Irish. Former Ireland coach, Declan Kidney, is now based there.

But he wants no place in a media scrum.

"I know one of those individuals well obviously and I wouldn't like to comment on anything to do with that case at the moment," he tells the paper.

"I think there's enough of a media frenzy rather than me adding anything to it."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Former Ireland coach Declan Kidney is refusing to comment

The Belfast Telegraph carries a front-page picture of Ulster Rugby chief executive Shane Logan and the headline: "Money wasn't our motive for decision to sack stars."

The paper reports that Mr Logan insists that "no sponsor... drove the decision" to sack Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

It says that Mr Logan "rejected criticism that they had effectively been hung out to dry by their club and country".

"There have been no winners and real sadness," he tells the Belfast Telegraph.

However, the Telegraph also reports that Ulster Rugby supporters have started a petition to sack Mr Logan and 1,000 people have already signed.

'Blank cheque'

The News Letter turns to the Renewable Heat Incentive scheme (RHI) inquiry for its front-page lead.

Political editor Sam McBride reports that the inquiry was told DUP leader Arlene Foster effectively signed "a blank cheque" when she put her name to a statement that the RHI scheme was value for money, even though she had not been told what it would cost.

Image caption The RHI Inquiry heard that Mrs Foster 'effectively signed a blank cheque'

Her special advisor Dr Andrew Crawford accepted that Mrs Foster's signature had been little more than a "box-ticking exercise" because legally she had to sign the document to authorise officials to proceed.

The paper reports that on a number of occasions on Monday, Dr Crawford accepted that he had failed to do something he ought to have done, but he also accused officials in Arlene Foster's department at that time of lapses and "deliberately misleading" her.

The News Letter features a front-page photograph of "Blitz Baby" Ann McNeilly who celebrated her 77th birthday on Monday.

She was born under a table in Belfast on 16 April 1941 as German bombs rained down in the Belfast Blitz.

Ann, who is now a grandmother and lives in Carnmoney, was one of a number of guests at a Blitz commemoration event in Belfast. She was also her parents' seventh child.

"We were living in a two-up, two-down house in Moorgate Street. Never mind the situation at the time with the bombs, a seventh child was going to be a push," she tells the paper.

The Mirror reports on how a female train conductor was "groped" and harassed by drunk men on the Derry to Belfast train.

The paper says the men were part of a group aged from 50 to 70 and that the woman was "very upset" by their behaviour. It's understood police are studying CCTV footage from the train carriage.

Image copyright Colm O'Reilly
Image caption Snow Patrol's Gary Lightbody plays the Odyssey Arena, Belfast, in 2009

On a lighter note, the Telegraph reports on a "dream gig" for a young Northern Ireland singer.

Callum Stewart, 21, from Magherafelt, took a call a few weeks ago from Snow Patrol and was invited to join them in London for their first concert in five years.

"It didn't really sink in - what I was about to do - until I was walking around backstage waiting to go on," he tells the paper.

"In terms of prestige, it's definitely the biggest performance I've done."

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