[CW: The following story details an alleged sexual assault]
In the early hours of March 26th, former UFC champion Conor McGregor announced — via twitter — that he had decided, ‘to retire from the sport formally known as “Mixed Martial Art”’.
Later that day The New York Times reported that McGregor was being investigated by Irish police over an accusation of sexual assault. Quoting anonymous sources, NYT claimed McGregor is accused of sexually assaulting a woman at a hotel in central Dublin last December.
That report also claimed that McGregor was arrested in January, questioned by authorities, and then released pending further investigation. McGregor has not been charged with any crime in relation to this alleged incident. The allegations against him are not proven. The existence of an investigation does not imply that McGregor is guilty of any offenses.
The New York Times also claimed that, “The Irish news media have reported on the case since news of the assault broke late last year, but without naming McGregor.” It is unclear how that outlet knows that stories involving an unnamed suspect relate to McGregor.
Since December, 2018 Irish tabloid outlets have been reporting on a sexual assault case involving a famous ‘Irish sport star.’ Those stories detail an alleged assault at the Beacon Hotel in December.
None of the Irish reports regarding this incident have named any suspects. One reason for this is that the laws in Ireland prohibits identifying individuals charged with sexual assault unless they are convicted. Outlets who report the identity of a suspect before a charge are often subject to ultimately successful libel and breach of privacy lawsuits.
The first “Irish sport star” story broke around Dec. 10th, with outlets such as The Daily Mail reporting on the incident.
The original report in The Daily Mail stated that police officers were seen outside of a hotel in Dublin city centre on Dec. 9th, where the alleged incident took place the previous night. That report stated the victim, a woman in her 20s, was socializing with a group of friends before going to a hotel.
According to The Daily Mail, the attack is alleged to have occurred after the woman reached the hotel, between midnight and 2 AM. It is reported that the next morning the woman went to a south Dublin garda station and reported the alleged rape. She was then taken to the sexual assault treatment unit at the Rotunda Hospital.
A day after that initial report Independent.ie revealed, through a source, that the allegation made by the woman was “extremely credible.” That outlet reported that the Pearse Street garda station was investigating the case and that the “sportsman” who was the subject of the allegation had not been interviewed.
Later reports from the Irish Independent stated that garda from Blackrock had identified the hotel where the alleged incident took place, obtained CCTV footage, and had performed a forensic examination on one of the hotel’s suites. In later reports The Irish Daily Mail added that the victim was found “battered and bruised” by investigators when they visited her home. The victim was also reported to be wearing blood-stained clothes at the time.
Though investigators had an allegation, and had executed searches for evidence, it was initially questioned whether any kind of charge would materialize. This is because the victim was supposedly hesitant to give an official statement. Without that statement, investigators could not bring formal charges against the “famous sports star”.
On Dec. 13th, the Irish Independent reported that the victim was “too afraid” to give a formal statement to investigators. A month later, a number of Irish and British sources, many of them tabloids, ran more stories again referring to an “Irish sports star”. Those outlets, which included Daily Mail, Irish Mirror, Dublin Live, and Belfast Telegraph, reported that this individual was arrested by gardai after they presented themselves to the Dundrum garda station.
Those outlets claimed that the “sport star” was kept in jail overnight and then released the next day, without charge.
After the individual’s release, those outlets quoted a garda spokesperson that said a “file will be prepared for the Director of Public Prosecutions” and that “the investigation is ongoing.”
Another outlet that reported the arrest and release of a man in connection to the alleged sexual assault at a Dublin hotel was RTÉ, Ireland’s public television and radio broadcaster. “A woman made a complaint to gardaí and the man is understood to have presented himself at a south Dublin garda station yesterday evening,” stated the RTÉ bulletin.
On Jan. 27th The Times reported that RTÉ was at risk of a €20m ($23m) fine from Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (CTC). The Times stated that the potential fine was related to a “newsroom memo that named a sports star in relation to allegations of sexual assault and was leaked and posted on social media.”
The DPC confirmed to The Times that they had received a notification from RTÉ about the incident, which is a breach of the European Union’s laws over General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
According to GDPR, RTÉ is obligated to notify an individual or company whose data has been compromised and their privacy affected.
The Times reported that the leaked memo was titled “handover” and is marked, “NB NB NOT FOR PUBLICATION/BROADCAST NB NB”. The memo appeared to include a running order of other stories that would be broadcast on the Jan. 18th edition of RTÉ Radio 1’s Morning Ireland programme.
That memo then named the “Irish sport star” and the sport he competes in.
An image of a memo which included the same title and subtitle as the memo reported on by The Times had been widely circulated on social media. The image also appeared on the mixed martial arts dedicated subreddit r/mma. Bloody Elbow can not confirm the authenticity of the widely shared image and can not verify that it is the same image referenced by The Times in their story about RTÉ.
Bloody Elbow reached out to both the UFC and McGregor’s manager Audie Attar for comment on NYT’s report.
After Attar forwarded BE’s request to Karen J. Kessler, of Evergreen PR, BE received the following statement:
This story has been circulating for some time and it is unclear why it is being reported now.
The assumption that the Conor retirement announcement today is related to this rumour is absolutely false.
Should Conor fight in the future it must be in an environment where fighters are respected for their value, their skill, their hard work and their dedication to the sport.
At this time of writing there has been no response from the UFC.