Newcastle Falcons' Zach Kibirige cleared of rape claims
A professional rugby union player has been cleared of raping a woman four times in the space of an hour.
Zach Kibirige, 21, of Premiership team Newcastle Falcons, had denied seven sex offences against the woman he met on dating app Tinder in November.
The woman had told Newcastle Crown Court the England Under-20s international gripped her throat before raping her in her bedroom.
But the player claimed nothing had happened "against the woman's will".
A jury unanimously found Mr Kibirige, from Middlesbrough, not guilty of four counts of rape, attempted rape, sexual assault and another serious sexual assault.
Earlier the court heard the pair had exchanged almost 1,000 WhatsApp messages over a fortnight before Mr Kibirige went round for "cuddles" and to watch a film.
He told the court they began kissing passionately on her bed and he claimed she said at one point: "You are going to have to try harder than that."
The complainant, who cannot be identified, claimed the player put his hands round her neck and she was too scared to shout for help. Mr Kibirige denied the accusation.
Mr Kibirige said that after they had sex he left because he had training the next morning.
"I don't think she was best pleased," he told the jury.
Driving home, he received messages from the complainant saying what had happened was "not OK".
Nicholas Lumley QC, defending, asked Mr Kibirige: "Did you think for one moment you had done anything wrong?"
He replied: "Absolutely not."
'Career on hold'
Later, he received a message from one of the woman's friends accusing him of rape.
He said he did not reply, explaining: "I couldn't see any good coming out of it."
Mr Kibirige's girlfriend, Samantha Whatmore, whom he started dating after the rape allegation was made, gave evidence to say he was not aggressive and had never made her do anything she did not want to do.
Members of Mr Kibirige's family wept in the public gallery after the verdict was read out.
Judge Penny Moreland made no comment to Mr Kibirige except to say he could leave the dock.
Following the verdict, Newcastle Falcons said in a statement: "This has been an extremely stressful time for Zach, and his hugely promising rugby career has effectively been put on hold during this very difficult period.
"The club are satisfied that their faith in Zach has been borne out by the verdict in his trial.
"Zach remains an important member of the club's playing staff and is available for all rugby and non-rugby-related duties."