Saturday 15 December 2018

Conflicting accounts emerge as friends and witnesses take the stand

Co-defendant claims alleged victim seemed 'fixated' on player accused of raping her as party events are recalled in court, writes Ashleigh McDonald

ON TRIAL: From left to right, Ireland and Ulster player Paddy Jackson, 26, his team-mate Stuart Olding, 24, and third defendant Blane McIlroy, 26, arrive at Belfast Crown Court last week
ON TRIAL: From left to right, Ireland and Ulster player Paddy Jackson, 26, his team-mate Stuart Olding, 24, and third defendant Blane McIlroy, 26, arrive at Belfast Crown Court last week
Rory Harrison. Photo: PA
Dara Florence, pictured, Claire Matthews and Emily Docherty appeared as witnesses in the trial of Ulster and Ireland rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding. Photos: Pacemaker
Dara Florence, Claire Matthews, pictured, and Emily Docherty appeared as witnesses in the trial of Ulster and Ireland rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding. Photos: Pacemaker
Dara Florence, Claire Matthews and Emily Docherty, pictured, appeared as witnesses in the trial of Ulster and Ireland rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding. Photos: Pacemaker

Ashleigh McDonald

As the high-profile trial in Belfast involving two Ireland rugby players accused of rape came to the end of its third week, jury members were warned to "be on your guard" over the weekend.

Judge Patricia Smyth reminded the 12 jurors that even if they are approached by family and friends, they are not permitted to discuss anything to do with the trial.

"I cannot emphasise that enough," the judge said.

Paddy Jackson (25) and his teammate Stuart Olding (24) are accused of raping a young woman in the bedroom of Jackson's south Belfast home after a night out in the VIP section of a city-centre nightclub in June 2016. Jackson faces a further charge of sexual assault.

The men deny all the charges and have claimed any sexual activity was consensual.

Another man, 26-year-old Blane McIlroy, has been accused of walking into the bedroom naked with his penis in his hand. According to the young woman at the centre of the case, it is at this point, fearing a further sexual assault, that she fled the room.

The opening of the third week saw a tense exchange between the 21-year-old complainant and a senior QC in Court 12 at Belfast Crown Court.

As the woman took to the witness stand for the seventh and final day last Monday, from behind a blue curtain she again rejected claims that rather than rape, she had engaged in consensual sex.

The jury has already heard that the woman, who was 19 at the time, had a consensual kiss with Jackson in his bedroom before going back downstairs to the party. She said that a short time later she went upstairs to retrieve her bag - and that is when she alleges she was raped by Mr Jackson and Mr Olding.

Mr McIlroy's barrister, Arthur Harvey QC, asked her about what she told both medics and police about Mr McIlroy's behaviour in the bedroom.

The woman said he appeared in the doorway, naked and holding his penis, and at this point she got off the bed, pushed past him and fled.

When Mr Harvey presented a very different version of events to her, in which she instigated sexual activity and performed oral sex on him "for a short period", she replied: "None of that ever happened. I don't know why your client is stating that it did."

And when Mr Harvey said at one point Mr McIlroy left the room to look for condoms, she answered: "None of that happened, Mr Harvey. I was raped. This is a rape case. If Mr McIlroy had touched me I think I would have made that abundantly clear to police."

Earlier in the cross-examination, Mr Harvey asked why, when she was recalling what happened to her, she used the term "you" instead of "I", to which she said: "I am trying to make it applicable to everyone."

Mr Harvey asked her: "If you called out for help or assistance, it would have been heard by the three girls downstairs." As she started to reply by saying "that's not how you react when you have been raped", the barrister interrupted and said she was using the term "you" instead of "I" again.

At this point, she said: "Mr Harvey, I am not going to argue with you about grammar. You are not going to put words in my mouth, thank you very much."

After her evidence had come to an end last Monday, Tuesday brought evidence from three young women who attended the same after-party at Mr Jackson's house.

The three - Dara Florence, Clare Matthews and Emily Docherty - also spent the night partying in the VIP section of Ollie's nightclub.

All three described a jovial party atmosphere afterwards at Mr Jackson's, where Prosecco was served and Abba music played. The three women also took pictures of themselves with the men present, which they posted on social media.

As some point in the early hours, Ms Docherty - due to a combination of drink and tiredness - went upstairs.

She was put to bed by Mr Olding on a sofa in an upstairs room.

It is when Ms Florence and Ms Matthews decided to go home, and couldn't find Ms Docherty, that Mr Jackson's bedroom door was opened.

Ms Matthews said she and Ms Florence were walking up the stairs to look for their friend. "We could hear some type of noises coming from a room," she said. She added that Ms Florence opened the door, then closed it again after a few seconds.

When asked what her friend saw in the bedroom, Ms Matthews replied: "She said in a joking way 'Oh my God, I have just seen a threesome'."

When she was asked by Mr Jackson's barrister, Brendan Kelly QC, whether when they went back down the stairs she had any concern as to what was going on in that bedroom, she replied "no".

When Ms Florence took to the stand, she told the court she and Ms Matthews were ready to leave the party at around 4am and were trying to locate their friend, when she heard "moaning" coming from a bedroom. As she thought her friend was in the room, she opened the door.

Confirming to Mr Kelly that she saw no signs of the complainant in distress, and that she didn't think she had just witnessed a rape, Ms Florence said: "I remember kind of laughing and telling Clare I had just walked in on a threesome."

Ms Florence said that while standing at the door, Mr Jackson asked if she wanted to join in - an offer she declined.

The jury also heard evidence from taxi driver Stephen Fisher, who picked up Rory Harrison - the fourth defendant in the case - and the complainant in the early hours of June 28, 2016.

Mr Harrison (25) has been charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding information. He denies both charges.

When Mr Fisher was asked how the complainant "appeared to be", he replied: "The young woman definitely seemed very upset.

"She was crying or sobbing throughout the journey and she didn't really talk very much at all - bar telling me where she needed to go to."

Mr Fisher also recalled Mr Harrison having a conversation on his mobile phone, saying he heard "small snippets of conversation... I would explain it was sort of talking in code.

"I recall him saying to the person on the phone 'she is with me now, she is not good, I will call you in the morning'".

After the alleged victim made a complaint to the police two days later, claiming she had been raped, an investigation was launched.

The taxi driver told the court that after learning police wanted to talk to him, "it resonated with me and I knew straight away what it was in relation to. It dawned on me.

"I went 'oh yeah, it's in relation to that night'."

Also called to give evidence was a friend of the complainant, who had been with her in Ollie's on the evening of June 27, and whom she texted the following morning, saying she had been raped.

While the complainant initially didn't want to go to the police, her friend told her the situation was "beyond serious" and drove her to the Brook sexual health clinic in Belfast.

The friend said they had been partying in the VIP area of Ollie's, and that the complainant texted her later that night to tell her she was at an afterparty in Mr Jackson's house.

After arriving home at around 5.15am, the complainant texted her friend at 9.51am and said: "Worst night ever, so I got raped."

A series of texts between the two were read out, including one saying "two then third tried to get involved... I was crying."

The complainant texted her friend saying: "They are scum. It's that schoolboy attitude times a million." She messaged that she wasn't "going to go up against Ulster rugby".

Advising the complainant to report the matter, her friend texted: "They are known to some people, they are not the be all and end all of the earth."

Two other close friends of the complainant were called to give evidence. One young woman, who has known the complainant for seven years, said she was in contact with her friend by text and WhatsApp in the aftermath of the alleged rape.

The witness, who was abroad in June 2016, received a text from the complainant saying: "I got raped by three Ulster rugby f***ing scum. Brilliant night.''

The alleged victim said she would "go for a scan and a morning-after pill", but added: "I am not going to the police. It's not worth it."

Her friend messaged her back, telling her to "get tests for everything and to see if there is evidence there".

Another friend said she arranged to bring the complainant for a medical examination. The witness said when the complainant got into her car they "hugged each other and I asked her if she was OK and she burst into tears".

She said "she had never seen her like that before... she's always very private with her emotions."

The first police officer to have contact with the alleged victim said she was "reluctant to go into details about what happened".

The constable said: "She told me she had been at a party, but she didn't name any names at this stage.

"She told me she had been to Ollie's nightclub. This struck a chord with me. I have a step-daughter of 19 who had been in Ollie's and had seen Ulster rugby players there. I was aware Ulster rugby players socialised in Ollie's night club. I asked her were there any Ulster rugby players there and she said there was.''

Last week's proceedings came to an end with the jury hearing claims from Mr Harrison that the complainant was "staring and fixated on" Paddy Jackson during the party.

Police arrived at his home two days after the alleged sex attack, and while he was being treated as a witness rather than a suspect, Mr Harrison provided two officers with a six-page statement.

Mr Harrison said he and his friends left Ollie's at around 2am and, as "Paddy is the only one of us who has his own place, it was assumed we would go back there".

He said music was listened to, people "may have been" dancing and "everyone appeared to be in good form".

In his statement, Mr Harrison told police the woman at the centre of the case "appeared to be staring at and fixated on Paddy... She didn't appear to take her eyes off Paddy".

Harrison said: "Paddy went to bed first, about an hour after getting home. Paddy went to his bedroom alone.

"Shortly after Paddy left, perhaps about five minutes or so, [the complainant ] left the living room. I saw her heading up the stairs. I didn't know where she was going."

He said he later saw the woman standing outside Jackson's bedroom and "I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary at this time. I said goodbye to Paddy, who was lying in his bed half asleep. He said he would see me later".

He said when the complainant came down the stairs "a few minutes later", she was "quite upset and crying.

"I asked if she was OK and she just sat there and didn't respond. I told her I would drop her home as I had ordered a taxi."

Mr Harrison also told police that in the taxi there was "no real conversation between us", and that the woman "kept crying to herself and appeared to be unsettled".

He concluded his statement by saying he, Mr McIlroy, Mr Jackson and Mr Olding met in a cafe at 1.30pm that afternoon, where they "sat and talked about the South African Rugby Tour Paddy had just returned from... There was no discussion about the previous evening".

After listening to a full week of evidence, and before sending them home for the weekend, Judge Smyth issued her "be on your guard" warning.

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News