Updated: 28/03/18 : 14:14:27
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Belfast rape trial - 'Not Guilty' verdicts returned

All four defendants in the Belfast rape trial have been found not guilty on all charges.

Ulster and Ireland rugby player Paddy Jackson has been acquitted of rape and sexual assault, while his team-mate Stuart Olding has been acquitted of rape.

Blane McIlroy has been found not guilty of exposure. Rory Harrison has been found not guilty of perverting the course of justice and not guilty withholding information.

RTÉ reports that the jury reached its unanimous verdicts on all counts after three hours and 40 minutes of deliberation.

During the nine-week trial, Mr Jackson, 26, from Oakleigh Park, Belfast, and Mr Olding, 25, of Ardenlee Street in the city, had denied raping the same woman at a house in south Belfast on 28 June 2016.

Mr Jackson denied a further charge of sexual assault.

Mr McIlroy, 26, of Royal Lodge Road, Belfast, had denied exposure while Mr Harrison, 25, of Manse Road, denied perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

All four men stood in the glass dock of courtroom number 12 in the Laganside complex as the verdicts were read out.

The judge had earlier warned members of the public not to react.

Three defendants - Mr Jackson, Mr McIlroy and Mr Harrison - were permitted to leave the dock first.

Judge Smyth said: "The jury has found you not guilty. You are free to leave the dock."

A short time later the court was told that no evidence had been offered by prosecutors on a charge of vaginal rape against Stuart Olding.

Judge Patricia Smyth directed the jury to find him not guilty.

Allowing Mr Olding to go free, the judge said: "Mr Olding the jury has found you not guilty of this count also and you are now free to leave the dock."

Speaking outside court Paddy Jackson thanked the judge and Jury for giving him a fair trial.

He also thanked his parents and his siblings.

He said that out of respect for his employers he would not be making any further comment.

His solicitor also spoke to reporters.

Blane McIlroy left the courthouse without commenting.

The high-profile trial was originally scheduled for five weeks but lasted for nine weeks at Belfast Crown Court.

In total, 30 witnesses gave evidence including the four defendants and the complainant whose testimony was heard over eight separate days, and verdicts were returned on day 42.

The court heard from 10 police officers, two doctors, a forensic scientist and a taxi driver who had driven the complainant home on the night in question.

When the trial opened on 30 January, a total of 12 jurors were sworn in - nine men and three women.

But about halfway through the panel was reduced to 11 after one juror was discharged because of illness.

There were emotional scenes outside the courtroom as family and friends of the accused hugged and kissed each other.

The Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby issued a statement after the verdict was handed down.

It said IRFU and Ulster Rugby officials will review the matter, "in line with existing procedures for all contracted players. A Review Committee, made up of senior representatives of the IRFU and Ulster Rugby, has been appointed and will conclude its review as soon as practicable. The players will continue to be relieved of all duties