Tuesday 25 September 2018

Rugby rape trial: 'A derogatory attitude of women is not equivalent to intention to have non-consensual sex'

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.

Lesley-Anne McKeown

A judge has begun to address jurors in the rape trial of two Irish international rugby players.

Judge Patricia Smyth told the eight men and three women to put aside feelings and consider all of the evidence dispassionately and clinically.

The judge said: "Emotion and prejudice will have no part to play in your deliberations."

In her summing up, which is expected to last for several hours, the judge will outline the salient facts relating to the evidence that jurors have heard over the past eight weeks at Belfast Crown Court.

She will also explain the relevant points of law which apply to the high-profile case.

Turning towards the jury, Judge Smyth said: "You are the sole judges of the facts. It is for you to decide what evidence you accept and what evidence you reject.

"You will form your own judgment.

"You must decide the case only on the evidence presented before you."

Jurors were also told to apply common sense and life experience in deciding their verdict.

And while allegations of sexual assault may arouse "wholly understandable" strong emotions, the 11-person jury panel was warned: "It is important that you guard against prejudice or sympathy against or for anyone in this case."

The judge instructed jurors to "leave behind" any assumptions about stereotypes.

She said: "There is no stereotype for a rape, a rapist or a victim of rape."

There is also no stereotype for how someone reacts if they are the victim of a sexual crime, the court heard.

Any person who has been raped will have undergone trauma, the judge noted, and court experience showed it was "impossible to predict" how a person who has suffered trauma will react either in the following days or when speaking about the matter publicly.

"There is no classic reaction," said Judge Smyth.

"People react in different ways. Some people resist. Some people freeze. Others do not resist because of the circumstances."

The judge also said everyone had their own way of coping, with some people showing displays of distress while others do not.

She urged the jury not to assume that because someone is distressed they are telling the truth.

Warnings for jurors to ignore press and social media reports, in particular on Twitter, were repeated.

Judge Smyth said: "This is a court of law and the whole purpose of a trial is to determine whether a criminal offence has been committed."

She said the panel may have heard evidence of sexual activity which they may find "distasteful" but said "you must not jump to a conclusion".

She said: "The morals of any person involved in this trial are completely irrelevant. You must not allow yourself to be influenced by any view. You must consider all the evidence and decide whether you are sure of the defendants' guilt in each of the counts."

Reference was also made to WhatsApp messages which jurors may have found offensive, crude or derogatory towards woman. "It is important that you understand that even if a man holds a derogatory attitude of women that's not equivalent to the intention to have non-consensual sex," the court heard.

Judge Smyth said that the content of text or social media messages may be ill-judged and unrepresentative of the character of the sender.

She added: "You should also bear in mind that young men may brag about sexual matters which create an impression of sexual prowess but does not reflect reality." She invited the jurors to use their "common sense" when arriving at conclusions.

The judge later spoke about the burden of proof required to convict.

A distinction between being sure and certain was drawn.

"You must be firmly convinced or sure of the defendants' guilt before you can find him guilty of any offence," said Judge Smyth.

"But, you do not have to be certain of guilt."

If jurors were "firmly convinced" then a guilty verdict must be returned but, if there was any doubt, or jurors were "not sure one way or the other" then a not guilty verdict must be reached.

Adjourning the trial for the day, Judge Smyth said: "Do not read anything in the media. It is irrelevant.

"What matters is the evidence you have heard.

"You are the only people who are going to understand what the law is you must take into account."

Paddy Jackson, 26, from Belfast's Oakleigh Park, and his team mate Stuart Olding, 25, from Ardenlee Street in the city, deny raping the same woman after a night out in Belfast in June 2016.

Jackson denies a further charge of sexual assault.

Blane McIlroy, 26, from Royal Lodge Road in Belfast, denies exposure, while Rory Harrison, 25, from Manse Road in Belfast, has pleaded not guilty to perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

The case continues.

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