Football club distances itself from behaviour of player convicted over sex photo
An Irish League football team under fire over a player who was handed a four-month prison sentence for sharing an indecent photograph of a child has distanced itself from his behaviour.
Cliftonville FC’s statement came on Friday as the Irish Football Association announced that Jay Donnelly will face its disciplinary committee.
The Irish FA said the committee will decide if the semi-professional player has brought the game into disrepute.
Donnelly, 23, of Ardilea Drive in Belfast, was convicted of sharing an indecent photograph of a child in November at Belfast Magistrates’ Court.
On Thursday he was sentenced to four months in prison, but released on bail pending appeal.
Cliftonville FC dropped Donnelly as a player in November after he was convicted of the charge, however he remains on the club’s payroll.
In a brief statement on Thursday, which did not mention the victim, Cliftonville FC said it will give the judgment “due consideration”.
After receiving criticism from one of its supporters’ clubs and a feminist group, Cliftonville FC issued a lengthier statement on Friday distancing itself from Donnelly’s behaviour.
“We wish to reiterate, as we said in our statement of December 1, that the club does not condone such behaviour and recognises the impact that this has had on the victim and her family,” the club said.
“We condemn such actions without question.
“We previously stated that the club will not shirk its responsibilities to our members, supporters and the wider community and that remains the case.
“The club is currently receiving legal advice and, when we are in a clear position to act, the club will do so, responsibly and within the requirements of employment law.”
The club statement also urged patience, saying: “We are constrained by the framework within which we as employers are legally obliged to operate.”
The statement added: “Cliftonville FC takes its position within the football and wider community very seriously. We expect our players’ behaviour, on and off the pitch, to reflect the proud history and culture of our club. We will seek out the most appropriate way to reinforce that message, including bringing in external advisers who can work with all our players on issues around relationship behaviour, social media and mutual respect.”
It remains to be seen whether fans will voice their opinions at the home match against Ards on Saturday.
The Irish FA has also announced it will introduce a new mandatory education programme for all clubs around lifestyle, attitude and values following the Donnelly case.
Earlier the North Belfast Reds Cliftonville Supporters Club voiced “dismay” at the club’s initial statement on Thursday.
In a Facebook post it stated: “We believe that in light of the sentence and what is now in the public domain, that the club must act swiftly and begin full disciplinary proceedings against the player.
“To wait until the outcome of any possible appeal is unacceptable and damages the reputation of the club.
“Finally and most importantly there was a 16 year old girl at the heart of this crime and our full sympathy goes out to her and her family.
“Victims should be our prime concern, not the convicted.”
Cliftonville FC was also criticised by the Belfast Feminist Network for its “non-committal” original statement.
“They need to do better than this, especially in the wake of the new information about the details of the case,” a spokeswoman said.
During the sentencing hearing on Thursday, it emerged that on June 21 2016, Donnelly had taken a photograph described in court as “extremely intimate” of a 16-year-old girl while they were having sexual intercourse.
The prosecution contended that the girl asked Donnelly to delete the photograph, however his defence team disputed this.
Donnelly shared the photograph with a friend and also with a WhatsApp group with 10 members, which included fellow Cliftonville players.
Several months later the photograph was leaked on Facebook, leaving the girl humiliated and subjected to verbal abuse on the street.
A defence barrister for Donnelly told the court that his client has expressed real regret and great sorrow about his actions from his first police interview.
He said his client’s footballing career has been left in “jeopardy”.
District Judge Amanda Henderson said she found the case to be “such a gross invasion of privacy” that the only appropriate sentence was an immediate custodial sentence.