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  1. ITV Report

Ulster rugby stars to stand trial on rape charges

Paddy Jackson (left) and Stuart Olding (right) pictured arriving at Laganside Courts for a committal hearing on Tuesday. Credit: PA

Two Ulster and Ireland rugby stars are to stand trial charged with raping a woman in Belfast, a judge has ordered.

Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding are jointly accused of sexual offences at a house in the south of the city.

Two other men, Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison, face charges as part of the same investigation into the alleged incident in June last year.

All four defendants appeared for the first time at Belfast Magistrates' Court on Tuesday for a preliminary enquiry into the strength of the evidence.

Following legal arguments, District Judge George Conner ruled they all have a case to answer.

He told them: "You will be returned for trial at Belfast Crown Court on a date to be fixed."

The accused were all released on continuing bail of £500 each.

Jackson, 25, of Oakleigh Park in the city, is charged with one count of rape and one count of sexual assault.

Olding, 24, from Ardenlee Street, Belfast, is charged with two counts of rape.

Both players strenuously deny all allegations made against them.Fly half Jackson has been capped for Ireland 25 times while centre Olding has played four times.

But the stars, also team mates for Ulster Rugby, are not being considered for selection until the criminal case is concluded.

McIlroy, from Royal Lodge Road, Ballydollaghan, Belfast, faces one count of exposure, while Harrison, of Manse Road in the city, is accused of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

The pair, both aged 25, also deny those allegations.

According to the charges Harrison made a witness statement to police, lying about his dealings with the alleged rape victim and omitted information relevant to the investigation.

Dressed in dark suits, all four defendants initially sat amid others gathered in the public gallery of Courtroom 13.

None of them were required to enter the dock because the case was brought by indictable summons.

Later they stood together as the allegations were formally put to them. Asked if they wanted to call witnesses or give evidence at this stage, each of them replied: "No."

During the preliminary hearing one prosecution witness testified and faced questioning by defence lawyers.

No further details of those exchanges can be disclosed for legal reasons.

Legal arguments advanced cannot be published at this stage due to the same reporting restrictions.

Backing a prosecution application, Mr Conner confirmed at the end of the hearing: "Having read the papers, I'm satisfied there's a case to go forward in relation to each of the defendants."

He stressed, however, that his decision was not related to either guilt or innocence.

With senior counsel from outside the jurisdiction instructed, any trial is not expected to get underway until early next year.