Rugby star Paddy Jackson has said he is “ashamed” and “truly sorry” to a woman who accused him of rape.
The 26-year-old and his Ireland and Ulster teammate Stuart Olding, 25, were acquitted at Belfast Crown Court last week of raping the same woman at a party at Jackson’s home in south Belfast in June 2016.
Jackson, who was also found not guilty of sexual assault, apologised for taking part in “degrading and offensive” Whatsapp conversations about the incident and said public criticism of his behaviour was “fully justified”.
He said: “I am ashamed that a young woman who was a visitor to my home left in a distressed state.
“This was never my intention and I will always regret the events of that evening.”
The flyhalf, capped by Ireland 25 times, expressed determination to return to the values and principles that he says guided his upbringing, in particular the importance of respect.
Both Jackson and Olding have said they would like to return to playing rugby for their country but they remain relieved of their duties pending a review by Ulster Rugby and the Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) into their conduct.
The IRFU is focusing on a series of sexually explicit messages sent by the players and their friends in the wake of the incident.
Campaigners on Friday took out a full-page advert in the Belfast Telegraph calling for both men to be dropped by Ulster and Ireland. The paper also published a letter from “concerned fans” voicing the same sentiments.
In a statement, Jackson said: “I am also truly sorry for engaging in a Whatsapp group chat which was degrading and offensive and I apologise unreservedly for this.
“The criticism of my behaviour is fully justified and I know I have betrayed the values of my family and those of the wider public.
“Following the trial I have taken time to reflect with my family on the values that were such an integral part of my upbringing, the most important of which is respect.
“My departure from these values has caused understandable public anger and I am resolutely committed to returning to those principles.”
Following his acquittal, Olding also expressed regret for his involvement in the incident.
Two other men were unanimously acquitted of lesser charges related to the case.
Blane McIlroy, 26, was acquitted of exposure while Rory Harrison, 25, was found not guilty of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.