Saturday 20 October 2018

Belfast rape trial: Juror may face arrest after making comments online

  • Online comments by rugby rape trial juror investigated
  • Separately, two quizzed by PSNI after complainant in trial named on social media
Blane McIlroy, Stuart Olding, Paddy Jackson and Rory Harrison
Blane McIlroy, Stuart Olding, Paddy Jackson and Rory Harrison
Paddy Jackson speaking outside Belfast Crown Court. Photo: PA

Ryan Nugent

A JUROR in the Belfast rape trial could face arrest and a contempt of court charge over comments made online following the trial's verdict.

The remarks are believed to have been made by a female juror in the comment section of an article that been posted on the website Broadsheet.ie.

The matter was referred to Attorney General's office in Northern Ireland by the Lord Chief Justice.

The Lord Chief Justice instructed the juror to have these comments taken down immediately.

Nine weeks of evidence: Paddy Jackson speaks outside of court after he was found not guilty of rape this week. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Nine weeks of evidence: Paddy Jackson speaks outside of court after he was found not guilty of rape this week. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

It is understood the AG's office are satisfied that the comments made on the website were by a juror.

A spokesperson for the AG's office said that AG John Larkin is considering whether the comments are a contempt of court.

Ireland and Ulster rugby player Stuart Olding (centre) with his solicitor Paul Dougan (on left) after he was found not guilty of rape .
Pic:Mark Condren
Ireland and Ulster rugby player Stuart Olding (centre) with his solicitor Paul Dougan (on left) after he was found not guilty of rape . Pic:Mark Condren

The PSNI have said "we are aware of comments made on a social media platform".

However, Independent.ie understands that if action is taken on the comments, it will not be until next week at the earliest, with the AG's office closed until Wednesday April 4.

Ireland and Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were found not guilty at Belfast Crown Court of raping a then-19-year-old woman by a jury on Wednesday.

Mr Jackson (26) was also found not guilty of sexually assaulting the student.

The rugby players' close friend Blane McIlroy (26) has been found not guilty of exposure.

A second friend, Rory Harrison (25), has been found not guilty of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

The juror posted a statement on broadsheet.ie this morning.

"I received a phone call yesterday from the office of The Lord Chief Justice in Belfast regarding comments I had made on Broadsheet.ie I was asked if I had a lawyer, and that I am liable for arrest," the poster said.

"I was instructed to contact Broadsheet to take down any reference to myself in regard to the ‘Ulster Rugby Rape Trial’ – I was the foreperson on the jury. Broadsheet reacted momentarily to comply."

The juror further added:

"The comments I made referring to the case were within the parameters of the judges’s discharge to all the jurors – the one thing she said, “Do not reveal conversations or discussions that occurred in the jury room”.

"Following my comments on Broadsheet, there is now an order, delivered to me yesterday, by the Judge, Patricia Smyth QC for the jury members to not comment on this case at all."

Separately, the PSNI has also quizzed two people about alleged breaches of the complainant's right to anonymity.

"There is an ongoing police investigation and two people have been interviewed in relation to an offence under section five of the Sexual Offences Amendment Act 1992," said the PSNI spokesman.

"Two files have been forwarded to the Public Prosecution Service for consideration."

The high-profile trial, which ran for 42 days, generated an unprecedented level of public attention and prompted calls from Jackson's defence solicitor for a crackdown on social media comment during criminal proceedings.

It has also renewed the debate on whether defendants in rape trials should also be entitled to anonymity, with their names only being revealed if they are convicted.

In another post-trial development, a number of media outlets are challenging reporting restrictions still placed on the case.

Restrictions preventing reporting on legal exchanges that take place in the absence of the jury usually fall away once the case is over, as the issue of prejudicing jurors is no longer relevant.

A number of outlets that covered the marathon trial are now seeking to get ongoing restrictions imposed by Judge Patricia Smyth lifted.

While the issue has been listed for a mention hearing before the judge on April 25, lawyers for press and broadcasters are endeavouring to have the matter dealt with next week.

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