Three rugby players, accused of rape after Wigan Warriors’ Academy Grand Final victory in 2015, have been cleared of all charges.
Declan O’Donnell, 19, Lewis Heckford, also 19, and Brad Lawrence, 22, remained on bail for more than a year before they were charged with the allegations.
But the three, all current or former Warriors Academy players, were told at Bolton Crown Court that prosecutors were offering no evidence in relation to their case.
Friends of the trio say their lives “have been made hell” in the intervening two years.
Hooker O’Donnell, of Concord Avenue, Hawkley Hall, who had also been accused of two further offences of sexual assault, which have also been dropped, is an England Youth and England Schools international.
He has been given the all-clear to resume playing by the Rugby Football League, as have half-back Heckford and utility forward Lawrence.
The RFL is understood to have banned the three players from any involvement in rugby league activity while the court case was ongoing.
O’Donnell, who joined Wigan from his amateur side St Pats and Heckford, from Wakefield, an England Youth and Academy standout, remain contracted to Wigan Warriors.
But Lawrence, originally from Workington, now understood to be a fitness instructor in the Bolton area, no longer plays for the club.
One source close to the case said: “We knew Declan couldn’t have done this - he’s a quiet and polite lad.
“But there have been people on Facebook who said he should have been strung up for what he was supposed to have done.”
A Crown Prosecution Service spokesman confirmed that no evidence was offered on all charges and not guilty verdicts were entered.
The case, which revolved around claims made regarding the night of September 26, 2015, did come to trial, on one occasion in June.
But the jury was discharged by a judge only a few hours into the hearing.
A date was initially set for a fresh trial to take place in November, before the players were asked to reattend court, so the proceedings could be formally dismissed.