Wednesday 25 April 2018

'How many times does it take for a girl to say no, for it to sink in?'

The rape trial of Irish rugby stars Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding has heard graphic evidence from the alleged victim, 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

Ashleigh McDonald

Tomorrow marks the fourth day that a young woman at the centre of a high-profile trial in Belfast will take to the witness stand.

The now 21-year-old student claims she was raped by Ireland and Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson, 26, and Stuart Olding, 24, in the bedroom of Mr Jackson's south Belfast home in June 2016, following a night out in the city.

The sportsmen are standing trial at Belfast Crown Court charged with rape. Mr Jackson faces an additional charge of sexually assaulting the then 19-year-old. Both men have denied all the charges and have claimed any sexual activity was consensual.

A third man, former Ulster Academy player Blane McIlroy, 26, is charged with indecent exposure, while ex-UCD and Belfast Harlequins player Rory Harrison, 25, is accused of perverting the course of justice and withholding information. The two men also deny those charges.

In a packed courtroom, the woman told the jury that she was raped by Mr Jackson while she was forced to perform oral sex on Mr Olding.

The woman said Mr McIlroy then entered the bedroom naked, with his penis in his hand. She said at that point her fight instinct kicked in and she fled the room.

She said she spent the next day, firstly taking the morning after pill, then being medically examined and diagnosed with a tear and bruising.

Evidence was also heard how on that day, her alleged attackers discussed events on the social media messenger, WhatsApp.

In one such conversation, Mr Olding said "we are all top shaggers", followed by "there was a lot of spit roasting going on last night fellas". Mr Jackson immediately replied "there was a lot of spit", prompting Mr Olding to respond "it was like a merry-go-round at a carnival".

As the four defendants sat side by side in the dock of Court 12 at the Laganside Court Complex, the student gave evidence from behind a blue curtain.

While she was visible in person only to the judge, jury and legal teams, everyone else in court - including the defendants - watched her on a TV screen.

Breaking down several times as she gave evidence, she recalled how she had been with friends at Ollie's nightclub in the Merchant Hotel, and had gone back to Mr Jackson's house for an after-party.

She said she did not follow rugby, had never been to an Ulster match and had met Mr Jackson only once months before, when she handed him a pint of Guinness in a pub while working as a promotions girl.

The woman - who, the court was told, drank one and a half large glasses of wine at her friend's house before going out, followed by three double vodkas at the club - believed she was going to an after-party at Mr Jackson's, and thought her friends would also be attending.

Telling the jury she soon realised it was "by no means a party", she said those present were Mr Jackson, Mr Olding, Mr McIlroy, Mr Harrison and three girls she did not know.

When asked if anything had initially occurred between herself and Mr Jackson at the house, she said: "Yes, we kissed. It was completely consensual but it was instigated by Patrick Jackson.

"He tried to undo my trousers, but I told him firmly I wasn't interested and went back down the stairs." When asked by Crown barrister Toby Hedworth QC if at that point Mr Jackson "tried to take matters further", she replied "no".

The woman said she soon felt "the mood had shifted" in the house. She thought it was "abundantly clear no-one else was coming back to the house, there wasn't going to be a party, so I decided to leave".

She looked for her clutch bag and after realising she had left it upstairs, she went back to retrieve it.

She tearfully said: "The image I have stuck in my head is of Patrick Jackson standing at the foot of the bed. I'm not sure whether that was before or after I got my clutch. After already telling him I didn't want to do anything further with him, he grabbed my trousers by the waistband.

"He undid them and pulled them down to my knees. In that moment you think you are going to kick and scream and fight, but it doesn't work that way.

"I just froze. I knew where this was going but... it just happened so quickly. The next thing I remember is, he pushed me down on the bed. Because I was wearing white trousers, they were quite tight so when he pulled them down, they caught on my knees. I couldn't actually move.

"After that, it just went so quickly. The next thing I remember is lying face down on the bed and he was having sex with me."

When asked by Mr Hedworth if Mr Jackson said anything, she answered: "No. I tried to push his hand away when he started. Verbally, I had already told him I didn't want things going any further. There was nothing about me physically that was telling him to keep going.

"I knew I didn't want this to happen, but he kept going."

The woman said Mr Olding then came into the bedroom. She said: "My heart sank. I knew what was going to happen. I looked Patrick Jackson straight in the eye and said 'please no, not him as well.' The next thing I remember is my trousers are off. Patrick Jackson was behind me having sex and Stuart Olding was forcing me to give him oral sex."

The student said that while she was being sexually assaulted by the two rugby players, one of the girls who had come back to the house opened the bedroom door.

She said she thought she was going to be filmed as lots of pictures had been taken downstairs. The student said the door opened, the girl said "oh", then "Patrick Jackson asked her if she wanted to stay. I can't remember her exact response, but it was a no, and she shut the door."

Saying she "couldn't stop" what was happening to her, the woman broke down again as she recalled a "completely naked" Mr McIlroy walking into the room with his penis in his hand.

She managed to get off the bed, telling the court: "It was at that point that my fight instinct kicked in. There was not a chance I was letting that happen again."

Describing Mr McIlroy's stance as "so aggressive", the woman claimed that as she was leaving the bedroom, she said: "How many times does it take for a girl to say no, for it to sink in?"

She added: "I ran down the stairs and out of the house."

She said Mr Harrison then came to her aid, and offered to take her home in a taxi. Saying she was a "complete mess" and at this point was bleeding, the woman said Mr Harrison comforted her and got her home.

When asked if she reported the matter to police immediately, the woman said she did not, as she felt she would not be believed.

And when asked what made her change her mind, she replied: "Because the more I thought about it... rape is a game of power and control. They rely on your silence, and you take the power back over the situation when you actually do something about it.

"Going to the police meant I was doing something about it. I was preventing it happening to someone else." She said going to the police was "the best decision I made".

The jury has been told that mobile phone traffic will make up a large part of the trial. Both the alleged victim and the men on trial sent texts or referenced the incident on WhatsApp.

The incident occurred in the early hours of June 28, 2016. At 11.40am that day, Mr McIlroy texted Mr Harrison, asking "what the f*** was going on? Last night was hilarious".

When Mr McIlroy texted and the woman was mentioned, Mr Harrison replied "mate, no joke, she was in hysterics. Wasn't going to end well. Aye just threw her home then went back to mine".

Mr Harrison, who dropped the woman home in a taxi after leaving Mr Jackson's home in the early hours, was initially treated as a witness. However, as the police investigation unfolded, he was treated as a suspect. He has been accused of "ostensibly seeking to comfort and help the complainant" while in fact trying to cover up what his friends had done and "mislead the police inquiry that followed".

Facing charges of withholding information and perverting the course of justice, after dropping the woman home at 5.15am, Mr Harrison sent her a message on WhatsApp that said "keep your chin up, you wonderful young woman".

Around noon that day, when she received a message from Mr Harrison which asked "feeling better today?", she replied: "To be honest, no. I know you must be mates with those guys, but I don't like them. And what happened was not consensual which is why I was so upset".

She also texted two of her friends, telling one "so I got raped by 3 Ulster f***ing rugby scum, brilliant f***ing night". Describing what happened to her in a text as "worse night ever", she told her friends she had been left with bruising.

Another text she sent a friend said "second then a third guy tried to get involved... I was crying". When her friend told her to go to the police, the woman replied "I am not going to the police, Going up against the Ulster rugby. Yea because that'll work."

"Thing is I would report it if I knew they would get done. But they won't. And that's just unnecessary stress for me. It will be a case of my word against theirs", read another text.

She was persuaded by a friend to go to the authorities and was subsequently examined by a forensic medical officer, who observed bruising and a 1cm cut in her vagina.

She reported the matter to the PSNI the following day, which started one of Northern Ireland's highest profile trials. The jury has been duly warned by Judge Patricia Smyth to ignore any media reports.

CCTV footage showed the woman mingling with Northern Ireland footballers including Kyle Lafferty and Will Grigg in the VIP area of the club before she went back to Mr Jackson's house.

Under cross-examination last Friday from Mr Jackson's barrister, Brendan Kelly QC, the woman denied she "watered down" her knowledge of Ulster rugby and its players. She also rejected a suggestion that she was attracted to celebrities.

The CCTV from the VIP area included footage where she and a friend were socialising close to several Northern Ireland players.

At one stage she is seen briefly touching Mr Lafferty's leg, while she is also seen holding on to Mr Grigg's arm momentarily as everyone is leaving the premises.

After leaving the club, the woman got into a taxi and went back to Mr Jackson's home for an after-party.

During the cross-examination, the woman reiterated that she had no interest in rugby. When she was asked whether she knew Mr Jackson and other Ulster players were in the VIP area that night, she replied: "Not to my knowledge, no".

She added: "We didn't go into the VIP area with the intention of meeting a rugby player, if that's what you're insinuating."

She also denied suggestions she had downplayed her knowledge of Ulster rugby players.

In the aftermath of the alleged rape, the woman exchanged several text and WhatsApp messages with friends.

Mr Kelly read some of the texts to the court and jury. One of the woman's friends advised in a text "just pretend you don't know they are from rugby" and "pretend you have never seen them before".

When asked by Mr Kelly: "Have you watered down either your following of rugby or your knowledge of the people who play?", she answered: "Not at all. Mr Kelly, those words are not my words. I have no control over what my friend said. I have not watered down anything."

Mr Kelly then asked her if she had been planning to attend an after-party with members of the Northern Ireland football team, as she was talking to players in the club.

The barrister asked her: "Were you attracted to celebrities at the time?" She replied: "No, I didn't even know who those people were." When asked: "But you knew who Paddy Jackson was?" she responded: "I knew his name, yes, and I knew what he looked like, yes."

The trial is due to resume tomorrow.

Sunday Independent

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