Monday 23 September 2019

Defence case will now be heard at Belfast rape trial

Stock picture: Getty
Stock picture: Getty

Eilis O'Hanlon

The impact of last week's wintry weather was felt in the ongoing trial of two Ulster rugby players accused of raping a young woman at a house in Belfast in the early hours of June 28, 2016. There was no sitting last Friday because of the weather. The day was devoted instead to legal argument.

The prosecution has now concluded its case after five weeks of evidence. Judge Patricia Smyth told the jury, now reduced to 11 people after one juror was discharged on medical grounds, that the defendants will have the chance to take the stand and "give evidence if they wish" when the defence case begins tomorrow. They will also be able to "call witnesses on their behalf".

Last week heard evidence from detectives who interviewed fly-half Paddy Jackson and his fellow Ulster player Stuart Olding, who deny raping the young woman in the bedroom of Mr Jackson's house in Oakleigh Park. This led to one officer conceding "yes, there were" when asked by Mr Olding's barrister, Frank O'Donoghue QC, whether there were "significant inconsistencies" between the accounts given by the alleged victim to the Rowan sexual assault clinic and to the police.

The court was also told that such differences were not uncommon, and could be attributed to trauma.

The detective, who is attached to the PSNI sexual crimes unit, was asked why certain "crucial questions" were not put to the complainant, which has led to some confusion as to when Mr Olding left the room after the alleged incident and how the woman's shoes and top came to be off.

She replied: "The object of the ABE (achieving best evidence) interview is not about asking questions. It's about them giving their account. It's about them being comfortable and... telling us what has happened in their own words."

Earlier last week, the court heard details of text messages sent between two other men, Blane McIlroy, who is charged with one count of exposure, and Rory Harrison, who is charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

During their exchange, Mr Harrison told Mr McIlroy that the claimant was "just a silly girl who has done something then regretted it" - almost exactly the same words which the young woman herself in her own text messages said would be used against her if she made a complaint against them ("they'll say… I was up for it, stupid little girl now regretting it"). He went on: "She's causing so much trouble for the lads". Some texts were later deleted and had to be recovered. Not all were recoverable.

WhatsApp messages sent by Mr Jackson, Mr Olding, Mr McIlroy, Mr Harrison, and other unnamed persons, were also read to the jury by senior counsel for the prosecution, Toby Hedworth QC.

Mr Olding, who described the girl in another message as "very very loose", told friends in a WhatsApp group that the night had been "like a merry-go-round at the carnival".

The tone quickly changed once they became aware that police were now involved. Mr McIlroy and Mr Harrison later exchanged texts in which both said they "can't remember an awful lot".

The trial continues.

Sunday Independent

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