Monday 17 December 2018

Nicola Anderson: Strange sense of frantic finality descends on courtroom

Dara Florence. Photo: Pacemaker
Dara Florence. Photo: Pacemaker
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

'A woman is entitled to say 'no' and to decide what sexual activity she wants, how far she is prepared to go, and what she does not want to do," Judge Patricia Smyth reminded the jury.

She told them that they must not assume because the alleged victim at the heart of this case was drunk, that she wanted sex.

"People do go out at night and get drunk," she said.

"Young people go out and celebrate their exams and get drunk - she was 19," added Judge Smyth.

Not once but many times, she declared to the jury that it was for them to decide where the truth lies.

With the panel almost certain to be sent out today to begin deliberations, a strange sense of frantic finality had descended on courtroom 12 at the Laganside complex.

The public gallery was crackling with a peculiar energy and the faces of the families looked worn and anxious.

At the heart of the room, the four defendants in their glass dock, having opted for jumpers and slacks of late, were back in more formal attire for this last stage of the trial. Paddy Jackson was in a blue shirt and tie, Stuart Olding in a navy suit, Blane McIlroy in charcoal and Rory Harrison also in a navy suit.

After a delay in the hearing in the morning, the judge resumed her direction to the jury in a thorough fashion, every word carefully chosen.

They listened intently as she reminded them of the key evidence. She gave them a brief synopsis of the narrative given by each of those concerned.

Regarding Stuart Olding, she instructed the jury not to speculate about the reason why the charge of vaginal rape against him was dropped.

The prosecution has an ongoing duty to review the evidence against every defendant, she said. The important thing to bear in mind, she said, was that the only charge they have to consider is one of oral rape.

Meanwhile, the judge described Dara Florence as a "key witness" in this trial.

In her statement to police, Ms Florence had explained that she had been on her way upstairs to find her friend Emily Docherty when she heard moaning coming from the bedroom.

In her second statement to police, however, Judge Smyth reminded the jury that Ms Florence had told police that she had heard moaning but that it was "not sexual".

"I'm kind of confusing myself now," Ms Florence had said in her second statement.

"All I remember now is a moaning and I thought it was Emily, that's why I opened the door."

In the second statement, she had recalled the sound of a "male, aggressive moaning" which she hadn't mentioned in her first statement.

Ms Florence then conceded to police: "I suppose when I was thinking back to it, it was just like sex I was hearing."

Judge Smyth reminded the jury of when it was put to the alleged victim about the noises coming from the room and asked whether she, herself, had heard noises, she had replied: "To be honest, you just completely lock yourself out of that situation."

The alleged victim said that when someone came into the room, she was "petrified" of being filmed because the girls were taking photos downstairs and it was her instinctive reaction to turn her head away so she could not be identified.

The defence says the allegations are false and motivated by a fear that her photo would appear on social media and that word would get out she was involved in group sex.

"That is a matter for you," the judge again told the jury.

Irish Independent

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