Newcastle Falcons winger Zach Kibirige cleared of Tinder rape charge
Newcastle Falcons winger Zach Kibirige, 21, said the hour-long sexual encounter he had with the woman at her home in November was consensual.
On the fourth day of his trial, a jury at Newcastle Crown Court cleared him of four counts of rape, attempted rape, sexual assault and assault by penetration.
Kibirige, who gained top grades at A-level and is studying for a psychology degree alongside his rugby career, was accused of raping the woman when they met for the first time.
The pair had swapped almost 1,000 WhatsApp messages over a fortnight before he 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."
They grabbed each other as they kissed, before having sex in a number of positions, he told the jury.
The complainant, who cannot be identified, claimed Kibirige, who is the son of a hospital consultant and a GP, put his hands round her neck and she was too scared to shout out for help.
Giving evidence from the witness box on Monday, the player denied throttling the woman.
Kibirige said that, after they had sex, he left as he had to get to sleep because he had training the next morning.
"I don't think she was best pleased," he told the jury.
"She said 'Are you not going to stay and cuddle for a while and watch the end of the film?'"
Driving home, he received messages from the complainant saying what had happened was "not OK".
Nicholas Lumley QC, defending, asked Kibirige: "Did you think for one moment you had done anything wrong?"
The 5ft 10in defendant replied: "Absolutely not."
That night he received a message from one of the complainant's friends accusing him of rape.
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.
Mr Kibirige held his head in his hands as the forewoman began returning the not guilty verdicts in a clear voice, looking at the defendant each time.
The jury retired at 12.45pm on Tuesday and had reached the seven unanimous verdicts by 1.55pm.
Family members wept in the public gallery then hugged in the corridor outside the court.
Judge Penny Moreland made no comment to Mr Kibirige except to say he could leave the dock.
A statement from the rugby club said: "Newcastle Falcons have welcomed the not-guilty verdict in the trial of Zach Kibirige.
"The club have been aware of the allegations hanging over Zach since his initial arrest. 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.
"Newcastle Falcons will be making no further comment on this matter."