Monday 17 December 2018

Nicola Anderson at rugby rape trial: Truth or mistruth - only unanimous verdict will be accepted

Blane McIlroy, Stuart Olding, Paddy Jackson and Rory Harrison
Blane McIlroy, Stuart Olding, Paddy Jackson and Rory Harrison
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

The judge told the jury that the prosecution asks it to consider what the young woman at the centre of this has to gain by making these allegations; why would she make them unless it is because she is telling the truth?

The defence said she was motivated to make false allegations because she was ‘petrified’ photographs of her engaging in group sex would enter the public arena, and that pressure from her friends to report the matter to the police meant she “began a process from which there was no way back”.

In these two paragraphs in Judge Patricia Smyth’s direction to the jury panel was neatly contained the nub of this entire case.

Truth or mistruth – only it can decide.

Necessarily, her direction to the jury was a complex one that took some time. At one stage, Judge Smyth held her notes up to arrange them more neatly and they were revealed to be so well thumbed as to be almost shabby. Page markers in various neon shades adorned specific sections.

Great work had gone into its preparation.

Blane McIlroy at Belfast Crown Court. Photo: Mark Condren
Blane McIlroy at Belfast Crown Court. Photo: Mark Condren
Rory Harrison

Asking that the issue paper be handed to the foreman of the jury, she told it that the only verdict she could accept at this stage was a unanimous one shared by all 11 of its number.

“You have, maybe, heard of a majority verdict – put that out of your mind for now,” she said decisively.

“If the time comes I can accept a majority verdict, I will ask you to come back to court and I will give you some final directions.”

It would take 45 minutes for lunch, she told members of the panel, adding: “Thank you all sincerely for stepping out of your own lives, for coming here to give us your time.”

In her summing up of the evidence, earlier, she had reminded members of the medical evidence.

Dr Philip Lavery, of the Rowan Centre in Antrim, which handles cases of sexual assault, had examined the young woman and had found a 1cm bleeding laceration to the vaginal wall, as well as bruising to the labia minora.

He told the other doctors the laceration could clearly be seen and he’d swabbed the area and confirmed injury to the vaginal wall and blood loss consistent with laceration.

Dr Janet Hall, a medical examiner for the defence, did not examine the young woman personally but had viewed a DVD of footage taken by Dr Lavery during his examination. She told the trial she still had a question that the blood may have been menstrual because the DVD was of poor quality.

Paddy Jackson. Photo: Pacemaker
Paddy Jackson. Photo: Pacemaker

Dr Hall was asked if, generally, most victims of sexual assault resisted or allow it to happen.

“She said the evidence is overwhelming that it is allowed to happen,” the judge reminded the jury – adding that whether that was so for the young woman is for them to decide.

All three doctors had agreed the injury could have been caused by penetration by fingers, a penis or another object.

Meanwhile, blood on the young woman’s underwear had been examined by a forensic scientist. The young woman had been asked to explain how it got there and had told the court that she had wiped herself after the alleged assault before putting the pants in her pocket.

However, the defence queried this, saying it was unlikely that she would have wiped herself with the thinnest part of the pants and claimed blood followed a pattern along the string of the thong.

Asked to shed light on this, the forensic scientist said if the pants were being worn while the woman was bleeding, she would have expected to find blood on the gusset of the pants but there was none.

Turning to the defendants, the judge said all had told the court they had been drunk on the night.

“But it is important you don’t leap to the conclusion that just because they’d been drinking that they were prepared to engage in non-consensual sex,” she pointed out.

None of the defendants had ever been in trouble before, the judge said.

She told jurors they had heard Mr Jackson described as a “man of good character”, never interviewed by the police before and that three character witnesses had spoken of his “positive qualities”.

“Of course, good character cannot by itself provide a defence to a criminal charge,” she said.

However, it should take it into account, she added.

Stuart Olding, the panel had heard, too, was a man of “good character” who had regained his fitness following injury.

Blane McIlroy was also described to the jury in court as a man of “good character” who was studying for a degree in America.

While Rory Harrison too was described as being of “good character” and the jury had heard how he had helped a woman with her bags and she had been grateful.

“You’re entitled to take into account everything you’ve heard about Mr Harrison including what [the young woman] said and how he looked after her leaving the house,” the judge told the panel. “It is for you to decide.”

Next she moved to the text messages and WhatsApp messages exchanged among the defendants on which the prosecution is relying.

“It is a matter for you to interpret all the messages exchanged between all young people involved and it is important you consider all possible innocent interpretations before you reach your final conclusion,” she said.

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