Northern Ireland

Rugby rape trial: Fine for naming complainant

Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Both Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson were found not guilty in unanimous verdicts

A man has pleaded guilty to publishing the name of a woman at the centre of a rape trial involving two former Ulster rugby players.

Sean McFarland, 36, from west Belfast, was fined £300 after being convicted of breaching a lifetime ban on reporting the identity of the complainant.

He is the first person in NI to be prosecuted for the offence.

In March, rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were cleared of rape after a trial that lasted nine weeks.

McFarland, of Rinnalea Gardens, was charged with publishing the complainant's name on a date between 7-9 February this year in contravention of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992.

He had been expected to contest the allegation, with a date for his trial due to be fixed at Belfast Magistrates' Court.

But instead, the Court Service confirmed McFarland entered a guilty plea.

Following the conviction, Marianne O'Kane, head of the Public Prosecution Service's serious crime unit, said complainants of rape and other sexual offences were automatically guaranteed anonymity for life, except in very limited circumstances.

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

She also urged social media users to avoid public commentary on any live court proceedings.

The police welcomed the conviction, saying it "should act as a deterrent to anyone who names a complainant in any serious sexual offence".

Det Ch Insp Zoe 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."

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