Ex-Celtic star McCourt protests his innocence as he appears in court on sex charges

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Former Celtic and Northern Ireland footballer Paddy McCourt insisted he was ‘certainly not guilty’ when he appeared in court charged with sexual assault.

The 38-year-old, of Wheatfield Court in Muff, Co Donegal, appeared at Derry Magistrates’ Court via video link from his solicitor’s office, charged in connection with an incident at a nightclub in the town the month last.

He is accused of intentionally touching a woman in a sexual manner without her consent on January 30.

During the short first hearing before District Judge Barney McElholm, a defense attorney expressed concern that another potential suspect who was standing near the victim at the time of the alleged assault did not has not yet been identified or spoken to by the police.

Paddy McCourt has been capped 18 times by Northern Ireland (Liam McBurney/PA)

Early in the proceedings, McCourt, who has been capped 18 times by Northern Ireland during his career, was asked if he understood the charge he faced.

With his wife Laura seated next to him, he replied: “Yes, but certainly not guilty.”

A police officer told the judge he could connect the accused to the charge.

Questioned by defense barrister Ciaran Shiels, the officer confirmed in court that McCourt, who also counts Barnsley and Brighton among his former clubs, cooperated with police in an interview.

Mr Shiels said a forensic investigation was being carried out by the police and asked the constable to provide a timetable for its completion.

The lawyer suggested that it had not been appropriate to charge his client before the analysis of the forensic evidence.

In response, the officer told the judge, “Your honor is well aware of the length of forensic admissions, it could take months.”

But he stressed that forensics is not the only basis of the police case.

“The investigator was of the opinion that there was enough evidence to charge without any forensic evidence,” he said.

Mr Shiels asked the officer if another person standing near the injured party had been found.

“Police agreed that this person was a potentially crucial witness and potentially also a suspect,” Mr Shiels told the officer.

“Can you confirm if this person has already been contacted by the police because he was not identified during the last contact?”

The officer replied, “I believe there are a few other witnesses to speak to to see if they are ready to come forward, Your Honor.”

“If it’s ever been done at this early stage, I can’t say.”

When Mr Shiels suggested the individual might be a suspect, the officer replied: “I don’t know of any other suspects.”

The lawyer said the uncertainty surrounding the other unidentified person and the potentially long delay for DNA analysis underscore his claim that the decision to charge McCourt was “premature”.

Lawyer Ciaran Shiels says Paddy McCourt said the decision to charge Paddy McCourt was ‘premature’ (Liam McBurney/PA)

Addressing the judge, Mr Shiels said: ‘This case could easily be before you for months before we know where we are on this (on forensics) and there was another person, your adoration , who also had to be spoken to.

“It’s been almost a month since and it looks like this person hasn’t even been brought up to speak.”

Judge McElholm said the issue of whether to charge was not his, but he wondered if the other person in the nightclub hadn’t yet been identified.

“I am aware that these things can take a long time, which is not good for anyone involved in the case,” he said.

“But obviously there was another person around.”

The judge added: “There was another person standing nearby and I think it is very important that this person be identified and spoken to.

“As for knowing in what capacity one speaks to them, it is the business of the police.

“Certainly from what I saw, it looks like there was another person there, so you would have thought it would be very important that that person be identified first and then be identified. speaks, so at the moment I think the defense have a right to know that this is being prosecuted.

Mr Shiels replied: ‘Police must investigate all reasonable lines of inquiry, not just those pointing to guilt, but away from it. This is the code we all know. That’s why we’re eager to hear from the police what they did.

The judge said there was little he could do to move the matter forward at this stage, but he reiterated that it is “very important that this person be identified and spoken to as soon as possible”.

He adjourned the case until March 23.

Mr McElholm said at the next hearing that he would like to receive an update on the efforts being made to locate the other person and the progress of the forensic investigations.

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