Thursday 26 April 2018

Nicola Anderson: Public gallery packed as final arguments in rugby rape trial are heard

Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson are accused of raping the woman in June 2016. Both deny the charges.
Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson are accused of raping the woman in June 2016. Both deny the charges.
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

THERE was some understandable trepidation when it emerged that Brendan Kelly, QC for Paddy Jackson, had apparently ‘written a book’ on this trial – with his announcement that his closing statement would consist of no less than 15 chapters. By 4pm, he had still only reached chapter six.

Earlier, Toby Hedworth QC, for the prosecution, had been neat and concise in his own closing address, seven long, wearying weeks after this trial first began.

In the gently plummy tones of a well-to-do London grandfather, he told the jury this was not about gender politics or “hashtag me too”, but what had happened in Paddy Jackson’s bedroom was a “throwback to the days of male entitlement”.

He claimed the conduct of “some males” and the first three defendants in this trial had shown they were “not interested in the views of a woman if their passions are up and they are full of drink” – and if they want to take sexual advantage, they will do so. “Her views are not sought,” added Mr Hedworth.

For the first time in many weeks, the public gallery was packed to the rafters. Alongside the media and the family and friends of the defendants were squeezed a large body of members of the public as, unlike in the Republic where rape trials are held in camera, the legal system in the North permits anyone to walk in off the street to observe these sensitive proceedings.

The atmosphere in courtroom 12 was tense, dense and clammy on this grey, rain-drenched Belfast day. There was also an ominous drip, drip from a water pipe overhead to contend with.

In their seats, the jury frowned in concentration as it listened intently to the first two of the five closing statements.

Mr Hedworth had played the family card, saying that what is claimed to have happened did not comply with the rules of our present day society – “protections any man would expect for his daughter”.

Mr Kelly, too, had clearly been listening intently, offering his own rebuttal to the jury by warning it that this was not a case of morals or sympathy, and that “we may all have daughters, we may all be fathers”.

“Don’t be distracted by the fact that we all have daughters and all are fathers,” he urged them.

“Try this case devoid of sympathy because your oath was to try it on evidence and the law says you must ignore those sentiments.”

“We’ve been doing it for hundreds of years,” he said, adding: “It leaves you with a clear head and an objective mind with which to test the case you’re trying.”

With each barrister being of the top drawer London variety, the level of argument was of an appreciably high standard.

Mr Hedworth told the jury that in considering what, if anything, had happened to the young woman at the centre of these claims, they should bear in mind the suggestion by the defence that this is a “silly girl who’s willingly done something she’s now regretted”.

“That amongst these macho young men had been the empowered individual in control of the first three defendants and using them in turn for her own sex gratification at the age of 19, upstairs in the house with none of her friends present,” he said in rolling tones laced with gentle irony.

She had not wanted to go to the police at all, he reminded them. She did not think they would believe her, she “did not like the PSNI” in any event and she worried for her father who had recently had a major heart attack.

But what had changed her mind, he asked, using by way of reply the alleged victim’s own words: “The more I thought about it, rape is a game of power and control and they rely on your silence.”

Later, he reminded them of her text to her close friend saying how it would be a case of her word against theirs, that they would have the backing of Ulster Rugby. They would say it was consensual and that she was just a “stupid little girl” who was now regretting what had happened.

“Spot on, ladies and gentleman, that is the stance they take,” thundered Mr Hedworth, reading to the jury the texts sent by Rory Harrison in which he referred to her as a “silly little girl who has done something and regretted it”.

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