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Former NI footballer Paddy McCourt cleared of sexual assault conviction

Paddy McCourt playing for Celtic (PA)
Paddy McCourt playing for Celtic (PA)

Former Northern Ireland and Celtic footballer Paddy McCourt has successfully appealed against a conviction for a sexual assault.

The 40-year-old, of Wheatfield Court in Muff, Co Donegal, was found guilty after a trial in May of sexually touching a woman in a bar in Londonderry in January 2022.

At Derry Magistrates’ Court in July, district judge Ted Magill handed down a three-month sentence, which was suspended for two years.

McCourt always denied the allegation.

He successfully appealed against the conviction on Tuesday morning after Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) offered no evidence.

During a brief hearing at the County Court in Derry on Tuesday, Rosemary Walsh, appearing for the PPS, said they had issues around witnesses who previously identified McCourt.

“This was a matter concerning an allegation of sexual assault against Mr McCourt, and there hadn’t been a dispute as part of the lower court proceedings that the victim was the subject of a sexual assault by one of two individuals who were at a bar and situated just behind her at the material time,” she said.

“The issue in this case was identification of which of the two individuals was the person that had assaulted her. She had her back turned at the time and wasn’t in a position to be able to say which of the two it was.

“Since the lower court hearing there have been evidential difficulties that have arisen with witnesses, important witnesses who had provided identification evidence and we do have problems with those witnesses.

“The prosecution has kept the matter under review and we are now in a position where we are not going to be contesting the appeal so I will be formally offering no evidence today.”

Eoghan Devlin, acting for McCourt, said he did not intend to “rake over the ashes of what happened in the lower court”, but contended there were a “series of issues that the prosecution faced in terms of difficulties and failures in the investigation”.

“Suffice to say that my client has always accepted this lady was assaulted but not by him,” he said.

“I would ask that your honour would dismiss the charge.”

Judge Philip Babington allowed the appeal.

McCourt played 18 times for Northern Ireland, scoring two goals, and was a Celtic player between 2008 and 2013.

He also played for Derry City during his career.

Speaking outside court, McCourt’s lawyer Ciaran Shiels said his client had been through an ordeal for almost two years.

“He should never have been charged in relation to this case, never mind prosecuted,” he said.

“This man should never have been charged, let alone put through the process and the ordeal that he’s had to face for the guts of two years.”