A Premier League footballer has been charged with raping a schoolgirl in France after allegedly lying to police about having sex with the 15-year-old because "he did not want to upset his girlfriend".
The 23-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is currently on bail awaiting trial along with his cousin, who is now 25, over the alleged attack in the southern city of Nimes, a court heard.
Both men, who could face jail terms of up to 15 years, deny charges of raping the unidentified victim, who was found "in tears and deep shock" by school friends after the attack in July 2012, according to legal sources.
There are no immediate restrictions on his playing career, although he is constant touch with detectives and lawyers in France.
She was 15 at the time – the minimum of age of consent in France – and claims she was forced into sex by her assailants, who were then 17 and 19.
Neither is French, but they were on holiday together at a campsite in Aigues-Mortes, which is 30 miles south of Nimes, and close to the Mediterranean coast.
At first the footballer denied having sex with the girl. When evidence was produced by police investigators, he changed his story saying: "I didn’t want to upset my girlfriend."
Now the defendants say they had consensual sex with their accuser, and always thought she was older than 15 too.
She has admitted being drunk on July 18 2012 – the day of the attack – saying the accused plied her with alcoholic drinks to make her more interested in sex.
Friends found her crying just before 6am the next morning, when she described the footballer as "pretentious and a bastard". He is thought to have already signed professional terms at the time. According to the girl and her friends, the defendants knew her age because she had explained to him she could not go to the campsite disco ‘because she was only 15 years old’.
After changing his story, the footballer told judges that the girl "had consented to sex" in a tent, but was threatened with legal action in a Nimes youth court.
The complainant, who is now 21, has not changed her story once, say prosecuting sources.
When the defendants reached the age of 18, the complaints were transferred to the jurisdiction of the Nimes Assizes.
Both men first appeared before judges in July, and have been bailed to return on a date to be fixed. Remy Nougier, the barrister defending the footballer and his cousin, said he had "appealed the elevation" of the case to the higher court, and that his clients "vigorously contest the accusations".
In March, French officials announced plans to fix the legal age of sexual consent at 15, meaning sex with someone younger than that would be considered rape.