Thursday 19 April 2018

Rugby rape trial: 'I'm not painting him as a saint - but look at Paddy Jackson... hands in his pockets'

Ulster and Ireland rugby player Paddy Jackson Picture: Pacemaker
Ulster and Ireland rugby player Paddy Jackson Picture: Pacemaker
Ireland and Ulster rugby player Stuart Olding arrives at Belfast Crown Court. Photo: PA
Rory Harrison arrives at Belfast Crown Court. Photo: PA
Blane McIlroy arrives at Belfast Crown Court. Photo: PA
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

'You see these four men...doesn't look great, does it?" said Paddy Jackson's barrister, arm outstretched as he gestured towards the defendants, inviting the jury to consider them.

Silence hung in the courtroom as the four men sat rigid in their seats.

This is about "an allegation", Brendan Kelly QC went on to claim.

"Don't hold it against them where they come from in the court," he urged the 11 jurors.

Having promised us 15 chapters to his closing speech the previous day, Mr Kelly had tacked on a 'bonus' instalment - dealing solely with his client.

The image he chose to leave the jury with was of Jackson, standing with hands in pockets, on the sidelines of a crowd in a Belfast nightclub as they go wild chanting: "Will Grigg's on fire," in the company of the Northern Ireland footballer in question.

It was almost the same "hands in pockets" language, claimed Mr Kelly, gesturing with hands in his own pockets, when Dara Florence had walked in on the sexual act and he had asked "Do you want to join in?"

"But you scratch the surface of this man, Paddy Jackson, you start to see who he is," he told the jury.

"I'm not painting him as a saint, it's not my job, but you've got to look carefully," he instructed them, claiming he wasn't seeking "any form of special treatment.

"Is he the type you might have had in your mind before we engaged on this eight-week programme?"

Mr Kelly then furnished them with another mental snapshot of Jackson, again captured on the CCTV from Ollie's nightclub that night, when he had stood in the aisle and along had come a young woman, asking for a selfie.

"He stands there and smiles," he said, swiftly adding: "Half hour later he turned into a marauding rapist? Was he tactile, flirtatious, lairy? Hands in his pockets...," Mr Kelly trailed away softly.

It had been a tense week in the hearing.

Monday had seen the completion of Rory Harrison's evidence on the stand.

Under cross-examination by Toby Hedworth QC, Mr Harrison was asked about a text he sent to the woman minutes after leaving her home in a taxi, which said "keep your chin up, you wonderful young woman".

What had he meant by that, wondered Mr Hedworth.

Mr Hedworth said she was upset - it was a compliment and he wanted to make her feel better.

"Just weasel words then," murmured Mr Hedworth.

Was she a wonderful young woman, he had earlier asked of Mr Harrison.

"Eh, I don't know," was his reply.

He recalled little detail of the taxi ride with the alleged victim as he dropped her home, could not recall a 'coded' phone call with Blane McIlroy, which had so strongly struck the taxi driver, nor could he recall asking the young woman why she had seemed so upset.

He had not told the police about her text the next morning in which she had confided in him that what had happened was "not consensual." The police had not asked, Mr Harrison shrugged.

Tuesday had seen legal argument and the closing statements were due to begin on Wednesday - only to be delayed for mysterious reasons.

With the closing statements beginning on Thursday, the public gallery was packed with those who felt the urge to come along and witness events for themselves.

"The law of this land says that a young woman is allowed to say no, and any such no not only should be heeded but must be heeded," Mr Hedworth instructed the jury.

"The law does not say 'oh well, you let me kiss you so I should force myself upon you and I the male will decide how far this will go'.

"The law is not, 'if she was up for something then I and my friends, if they fancy, can join and can effectively do as I and they please'.

"The world has moved on," he told them.

"Unfortunately the behaviour of some in our society has not.

"What happened in Patrick Jackson's bedroom in the early hours of June 28, 2016, represents, we say, a throwback to the days of male entitlement," said Mr Hedworth.

This was not about MeToo and gender politics - this was about the conduct of some men - and of the first three defendants in this trial, he said.

If she tries to complain thereafter then she's "just a silly girl," said the prosecution barrister.

She is "getting the boys into trouble," he added drily.

The woman had been concerned from the start that the men would "concoct a story" and that Ulster Rugby would back them.

But she had gone to the police because rape is a game of "power and control and they rely on your silence".

"Lads or legends," Mr Hedworth said of the defendants, telling the jury: "You decide."

Irish Independent

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