An Irish League football star who distributed a photo of him having sex with a 16-year-old girl has shown “profound remorse”, a court heard on Friday.
As Cliftonville FC striker Jay Donnelly appealed his four-month prison sentence, defence counsel described him as a man with low intelligence who never plotted to humiliate the victim.
Gregory Berry QC said: “He cannot turn back the clock - how he wishes he could.”
Donelly’s former manager also told a judge that he would not hesitate to sign him again at some point in the future.
The 23-year-old footballer, of Ardilea Drive in north Belfast, is challenging the jail term imposed on him in January following a guilty plea.
Belfast County Court heard he took the photo of the girl wearing his team shirt while they were engaged in consensual sex on a date in 2016
Donnelly shared it with a friend and up to ten other players through the WhatsApp messaging service, before it leaked and went viral on social media.
The girl was then said to have been humiliated and subjected to verbal abuse on the street as a consequence.
Prosecutor Natalie Pinkerton contended that the victim never consented to a second image being taken during sex.
It was only when she saw a flash from behind that she realised what had happened.
The girl claimed Donnelly agreed to her request to delete the photo - an assertion he disputes.
She then began getting Facebook messages from strangers with the picture attached.
“The images were all over social media and her name was beside them,” Ms Pinkerton said.
“She said she was deeply disturbed, physically ill and humiliated.”
During interviews Donnelly told police he sent the picture to a mate out of stupidity, adding that he was just being a “f****** d***”.
His Honour Judge David McFarland heard the photo subsequently appeared on a fans site and another football club’s Facebook page.
According to the prosecution WhatsApp messages deleted from Donnelly’s phone could not be recovered.
Donnelly, who is currently on bail, was dropped by Cliftonville following his conviction in November last year.
With his playing career still in the balance pending the outcome of the appeal, he was supported in court by members of his family.
Mr Berry submitted: “It’s apparent from the pre-sentence report that he expresses profound remorse for his actions in sending this photograph to a WhatsApp group.”
The court heard Donnelly has been assessed as having a borderline learning disability, with an IQ in the bottom eight percent of the population.
“That would belie the notion of someone who is plotting to humiliate a victim,” counsel said.
“It suggests a naivety and a lack of consequential thinking at the time.”
The barrister insisted his client now clearly recognises the consequences for the girl from what he had done.
“Mr Donnelly is not sly, he’s not cunning, he’s not devious and he’s not manipulative,” he said.
“He’s a young man with limited abilities, very limited abilities.”
Mr Berry also argued that the circumstances surrounding the offence were exceptional.
“This is not a case of hundreds of images where there are very young children being exploited, where children are in obvious suffering or where there’s been an abuse of trust.”
During the appeal hearing ex-Cliftonville manager Barry Gray gave character evidence on behalf of his former striker.
He described the footballer as “trustworthy and honest in everything he has done for me”.
Asked by Mr Berry if he would have any qualms about signing Donnelly again in future, Mr Gray replied: “Absolutely no hesitation at all.”
Reserving his decision on the appeal, Judge McFarland said: “This is a difficult case, I want to reflect on it.”