Tuesday 23 October 2018

Nicola Anderson: Often we wondered if it was the young woman being put on trial

Paddy Jackson speaking outside Belfast Crown Court. Photo: PA
Paddy Jackson speaking outside Belfast Crown Court. Photo: PA
Blane McIlroy, Stuart Olding, Paddy Jackson and Rory Harrison
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Many times we wondered who exactly had been put on trial here.

The young woman – or the four young men in the dock.

For eight long days in the witness box, the 21-year-old endured a gruelling ordeal as the battalion of four highly experienced barristers for the accused each took their turn to question her forensically.

They pored over CCTV of her dancing in a nightclub as if it held some secret code as to what had happened later that night.

Even the application of her fake tan that night was pondered in open court.

Merely a witness in her own rape trial, she was not entitled to her own legal representation and had to rely solely on the crown. Apart from her own testimony, nobody spoke for her – and once the eight days were over, she was but an invisible character in the narrative, a reference point for others.

Nor was she entitled to any witnesses who might speak as to her good character, unlike the defendants.

Her underwear was produced in court for the inspection by judge and jury.

While six men walked out of the courtroom 12 as the anatomy of the female body, in general, was discussed – in what seemed like the most peculiar degree of prudishness amongst unconnected members of the public who had chosen to attend a rape trial.

A heavy blue curtain had been drawn around the stand so that the young woman did not have to lay eyes on the defendants, though her face emerged on screen in the courtroom. There was nothing unusual about this set-up, Judge Patricia Smyth later pointed out to the jury.

In the North, rape trials are not held ‘in camera’ and so anyone could walk in off the street to observe her give evidence.

“Everyone in Belfast knows who she is,” claimed an onlooker confidently.

In a small city like this, privacy is hard to maintain.

She was fresh-faced, make-up-free and pretty, her long, light brown hair pulled into a pony tail from which strands untidily escaped, and she wore tailored Ralph Lauren shirts for her court appearances.

She spoke in a low voice with a middle-class Belfast accent as she stood, taking the oath, the ‘Bible’ in hand.

As she told her version of events that night, led through her evidence by Toby Hedworth for the prosecution, she broke down in tears, her hand before her face as she spoke.

Through it all, she remained strong and articulate, despite her emotion, insistent that she was telling the truth about what happened that night.

“I was handled like a piece of meat,” she told the court.

Put to her by Brendan Kelly QC for Paddy Jackson that “in an intoxicated and excited state ... you that night engaged of your own choice in sexual activity,” she said: “I completely reject that”, and added: “Mr Kelly, I was raped. I don’t think I can make myself more clear.”

There were nevertheless certainly inconsistencies in her narrative.

Frank O’Donoghue QC, in cross-examining the police officer who had conducted the investigation, put it to her that there had been “significant inconsistencies” between what the complainant said to the Rowan centre for sexual assault and what she was telling the police.

“Yes, there were,” the officer answered – but went on to explain that differing or inconsistent accounts could be attributed to trauma, mistake or fragmented memory.

When asked about the mechanics of the sex attack, and how Mr Olding’s penis came to be in her mouth, she told police: “I am not entirely sure, to be honest.” When she was again asked in the same interview about this, she said: “There was no conversation. I didn’t have a choice. I am really sure my head was forced down.”

Her account was in one way verified by independent witness Dara Florence who claimed to have witnessed sex “100pc” – though on the other she said that it had looked like a consensual threesome.

Defence barristers put it to her that she appeared to have spent around an hour in Paddy Jackson’s bedroom – which they suggested was a long time in terms of a rape but she could not be certain of time.

At 4.43am, the Uber taxi app had been opened on her phone – some nine minutes before a call had been made from Blane McIlroy’s phone to Rory Harrison’s phone and 15 minutes before Rory Harrison had made a phone call to a taxi company.

The defence teams had questions about it, given her account of running out of the house and then realising that she had forgotten her phone, going back inside to get it, and then being followed out onto the street by Mr Harrison.

But the young woman could not remember.

In his closing address, Brendan Kelly QC told the jurors they must be convinced of guilt before they can convict.

He described the woman’s evidence as “flawed” by inconsistencies and by untruth and suggested she had only reported the event as rape because she had been afraid Ms Florence may have had a camera and that she was ‘petrified’ photographs of her being involved in group sex would end up on social media.

In the end, the jury preferred the version of events presented by the defendants – despite the even greater inconsistencies across their own four narratives.

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