Saturday 20 October 2018

Nicola Anderson: Conflicting accounts from those in house on night of alleged attack emerge in rugby rape trial

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
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

BY the end of her eight days in the witness box, the version of events put forward by the young woman who had given her evidence from behind a curtain had been well and truly established.

Her account was developed this week by close friends and text messages exchanged between them.

This week, however, also saw the introduction of some crucial contradictions.

We heard a narrative of the night that one of the young men at the heart of these events had given to the police.

Ireland and Ulster rugby player Paddy Jackson arrives at Belfast Crown Court. Photo: Michael Cooper/PA
Ireland and Ulster rugby player Paddy Jackson arrives at Belfast Crown Court. Photo: Michael Cooper/PA

In some respects, their accounts were diametrically opposed.

Irish rugby internationals Paddy Jackson (26) and Ulster teammate Stuart Olding (24) are charged with raping the same woman in June 2016. Both deny the allegations. Mr Jackson denies a further charge of sexual assault.

Ireland and Ulster rugby player Stuart Olding (left) arrives at Belfast Crown Court. Photo: Michael Cooper/PA Wire
Ireland and Ulster rugby player Stuart Olding (left) arrives at Belfast Crown Court. Photo: Michael Cooper/PA Wire

Blane McIlroy (26) denies one charge of exposure. Rory Harrison (25) is charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding evidence. He also denies the charges.

A succession of Northern Irish policemen came to court to give evidence yesterday in the trial.

In the North, PSNI officers may not be named for fear of identification, but one spoke of going to the house of Mr Harrison to get his initial account of what he said happened.

Mr Harrison told them that at 6pm on Monday, June 27, 2016, he had gone to Mr McIlroy’s house at Royal Lodge before going to the Cutters Wharf bar in Belfast to watch the English soccer team in the European Championships, accompanied by Mr Jackson, his brother Paul Jackson and Mr Olding.

Rory Harrison. Photo: PA
Rory Harrison. Photo: PA

They all had “about three or four pints each”, he said, before Paul Jackson’s girlfriend collected him at 10pm.

He wasn’t sure who suggested it, he told the police, but it was decided the rest of them would get a taxi and go into Belfast city centre.

Ireland and Ulster rugby player Paddy Jackson (left) arrives at Belfast Crown Court. Photo: Michael Cooper/PA Wire
Ireland and Ulster rugby player Paddy Jackson (left) arrives at Belfast Crown Court. Photo: Michael Cooper/PA Wire

They tried to get into a bar called the Dirty Onion but it was closed.

Instead, they went to Ollie’s nightclub, arriving there around midnight. They didn’t have to pay in.

Some girls had come over to talk to them, and he recalled having a conversation with one of them, by the name of Dara Florence.

Some people were asking for selfies with Mr Jackson and Mr Olding because they played with Ulster Rugby, he said.

They all had a few more drinks but “no one was so drunk that they didn’t know what was happening around them”.

After the nightclub closed, he recalled speaking to Northern Ireland footballer Will Grigg.

It was decided the friends would go back to Mr Jackson’s house because “he’s the only one of us with his own place,” he explained to the police.

They were going back “for nothing in particular” he said, and by the time they got there, there were “four or five females” with them.

They all went into the living room and started to listen to music playing on his phone plugged into speakers.

“Everyone was moving about and everyone appeared to be in good form,” he said.

The alleged victim at the centre of this case “appeared to be staring at and fixated with Paddy”, he claimed.

The court then heard how Mr Harrison told police: “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 woman) left the living room.

“I saw her heading up the stairs. I didn’t know where she was going to.”

Some time after she left, Mr Olding and “another girl” had also then left the room.

The only ones left were Mr McIlroy, Ms Florence and one of her friends.

Mr McIlroy then left on his own and Mr Harrison assumed he was going to bed.

He stayed downstairs with Ms Florence and her friend. Half an hour after Mr McIlroy had gone out of the room, he decided to go home “as I was the only one left,” he said.

He claims he went upstairs “to say goodnight to the guys”.

The alleged victim was “standing outside the bedroom door”, he said, adding: “I didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary.

“I went into Paddy’s room and said goodbye, he said he’d see me later,” he said.

He was alone in the living room when the alleged victim came into the room, appearing “upset and quiet”.

The jury heard he told officers: “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.”

There was no real conversation in the cab and she “kept crying into herself and appeared unsettled”.

He told police he noticed nothing peculiar about her “appearance, demeanour or clothing” and that he walked her to the door.

Mr Harrison told police that he gave her a hug before going home in the taxi, the court heard.

The next afternoon, he met up with Mr Jackson, Mr Olding and Mr McIlroy and they talked about the South African rugby tour from which Mr Jackson had just returned.

There was no discussion about the previous night, he claimed.

The trial also heard from Ms Florence – who had walked into the room and witnessed what she claimed to be a “threesome”.

She said she had seen no signs this was not consensual – but when questioned by the prosecution conceded she had seen no signs the woman had “positively consented”.

She also claimed to have ‘100pc’ seen Mr Jackson engaged in sexual intercourse.

He has denied having sex with the complainant.

During the week, the trial had heard from two sets of girls whose evidence was also crucial to the trial.

Three friends of the alleged victim, who cannot be identified, told the court of her demeanour in the aftermath of the night in question.

One told how the complainant burst into tears when she had first met her to pick her up and take her to a sexual assault clinic in Co Antrim.

The young woman was generally very composed and in control of her emotions, she explained to the court.

She had never seen her like this before.

There was something of a ruffle in the court on Thursday, when the defence produced text messages between the alleged victim and one of her closest friends, in which the two had discussed rape some 12 weeks before the alleged attack.

The friend had claimed that if she was ever raped, she would not go forward to the police but would deal with the man herself by finding a way of blackmailing or stabbing him.

However, the alleged victim had replied by saying that nine out of 10 rapes go unreported. She herself was thinking about taking up boxing, she said.

“Obviously that wasn’t serious,” the witness told the defence, about the texts about violence.

Brendan Kelly, QC for Mr Jackson, asked why she wouldn’t go to the police.

“For the reason of what’s happening in this room right now,” she told him.

“It’s daunting and it’s quite horrible. You get blamed...it’s a distressing process.”

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