WARNING: Disturbing content

Thousands of women have today joined several #IBelieveHer protests in Ireland the day after two rugby stars were cleared of rape.

Irish internationals Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were cleared of rape yesterday following a nine-week trial at Belfast Crown Court.

They were accused of sexually assaulting a woman when they went back to Jackson's flat after a night out in the capital city.

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The court heard the pair were in a WhatsApp group which discussed having a 'spit roast' and said sex with the woman was 'like a merry-go-round'.

But just hours after they were cleared, in response to the wider issues raised by the case and in support of the woman and others in a similar position, thousands of people tweeted #IBelieveHer.

The hashtag was trending in the UK, Ireland and worldwide and on Thursday a rally outside the Laganside courthouse took place along with others in Derry, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Dublin.

Both Jackson, 26, and Olding, 25, were cleared alongside their friend Rory Harrison, 25 - who denied perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

Another friend Blane McIlroy, 26, was accused of one count of exposure but the four defendants were cleared of all charges relating to the alleged incident in June 2016.

The Belfast rally was organised by Reclaim the Night Belfast, which is a group which is campaigning against harassment and gender-based violence.

On Facebook, the group wrote: "The feminist movement is calling a rally in response to the impact of the recent rape trial in Belfast.

"There is a lot of anger and upset among women who have observed the treatment of the [woman] in this case and found it harrowing and re-traumatising."

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The hashtag #IBelieveHer was trending in the UK, Ireland and worldwide on Twitter just hours after the verdicts were returned.

Ireland and Ulster rugby player Paddy Jackson, centre, arriving with family members at Belfast Crown Court where he and his teammate Stuart Olding are on trial accused of raping a woman. Photo / Getty
Ireland and Ulster rugby player Paddy Jackson, centre, arriving with family members at Belfast Crown Court where he and his teammate Stuart Olding are on trial accused of raping a woman. Photo / Getty

Many used their messages to support the woman who gave evidence throughout the trial, which was described by the judge as "probably the most difficult trial any jury in Northern Ireland has been asked to adjudicate on".

After the case yesterday, Jackson - who was also cleared of a separate charge of sexual assault - said: "I'd just like to thank the judge and the jury for giving me a fair trial, my parents for being here every day, as well as my brother and sisters.

"Out of respect for my employers I've nothing further to comment."

Ireland and Ulster rugby player Stuart Olding, second left, listens as his solicitor Paul Dougan reads out a statement to reporters outside Belfast Crown Court. Photo / Getty
Ireland and Ulster rugby player Stuart Olding, second left, listens as his solicitor Paul Dougan reads out a statement to reporters outside Belfast Crown Court. Photo / Getty

Meanwhile, Olding's solicitor Paul Dougan, read out a statement on behalf of the rugby player.

He said: "I want to acknowledge publicly that though I committed no criminal offence on the evening of June 28, 2016, I regret deeply the events of that evening.

"I want to acknowledge that the complainant came to court and gave evidence about her perception of those events.

"I am sorry for the hurt that was caused to the complainant. It was never my intention to cause any upset to anyone on that night.

"I don't agree with her perception of events, and I maintain that everything that happened that evening was consensual."

The court had previously heard how the rugby players were accused of boasting with their friends about a "spit roasting" on a WhatsApp group.

The jury was told that Olding allegedly wrote "we are all top sh****rs, before adding: 'It was like a merry-go-around at a carnival."

He also wrote: 'There was a bit of spit roasting going on last night fellas,' the court heard.

It is also alleged that Jackson replied on the same WhatsApp messaging service: "There was a lot of spit."

In another message also read out, McIlroy boasted: "Pumped a bird with Jacko on Monday, roasted her, then another on Tuesday night."

A review by the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby is now underway following the verdict.

WhatsApp messages

Whatsapp messages allegedly sent by Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson were read to Belfast Crown Court, during evidence presented by the prosecution.

In one, Olding was said to have written: 'We are all top sh*gg*rs', before adding: 'It was like a merry-go-around at a carnival.'

The court heard he also wrote: 'There was a bit of spit roasting going on last night fellas.'

It is alleged that Jackson replied on the same WhatsApp messaging service: 'There was a lot of spit.'

The alleged conversation in full:

'How was she?'

'She was very, very loose'

'Any ***** get ******?'

'There was a lot of spit roast last night'

'There was a lot of spit'

'It was like a merry go round at the carnival'

'We are all top shaggers'

'Love Belfast *****'

'Boys, did you pass spit roast brassers'

'What the fuck was going on. Last night was hilarious.'

'Why are we such legends?' 'I know it's ridiculous'

'Mate no jokes she was in hysterics, wasn't going to end well'

'Really, **** sake, did you calm her? Where does she live?'

'Aye, just threw her home then went back to mine'