Sunday 16 December 2018

Rugby rape trial: 'Legends' or rapists who closed ranks?

The prosecution and defence have accused each other of flaws as marathon trial nears end, writes Ashleigh McDonald

Paddy Jackson
Paddy Jackson
Blane McIlroy
Rory Harrison
Stuart Olding

Ashleigh McDonald

The seventh week of a high-profile rape case in Belfast ended last Friday with a barrister for Ireland international rugby player Paddy Jackson telling the jury his client was "not looking for special treatment" and hadn't "played the rugby card".

In a week which saw both the Crown prosecution and defence accuse each other's cases of being flawed with inconsistencies, the trial is now hearing closing submissions.

The public gallery at Belfast Crown Court was packed to capacity as Crown barrister Toby Hedworth summed up the case against Mr Jackson and three co-accused.

While Mr Hedworth suggested that what allegedly happened in the bedroom of Mr Jackson's home in the early hours of June 28, 2016, was "a throwback to the days of male entitlement", Mr Jackson's barrister countered this by claiming the woman at the centre of the case lied after being caught engaged in group sex as she was "petrified" her life would be "in ruins" if images of the incident appeared on social media.

The now 21-year-old complainant alleges that she was raped from behind by Mr Jackson (26) while being forced to perform oral sex on his Ireland and Ulster teammate, Stuart Olding (25).

Both men have denied rape, claiming that any sexual activity was consensual, while Mr Jackson also denies a further charge of sexual assault.

The woman also claims a third man, 25-year-old Blane McIlroy, appeared in the bedroom naked, with his penis in his hand, seeking sex. He has been charged with, and denies, exposure.

Also facing charges arising from the incident is Rory Harrison (25), who is standing trial charged with withholding information and perverting the course of justice. He too denies the charges.

As the jurors were sent home for the weekend, they were urged by Judge Patricia Smyth to keep an open mind as "you haven't heard everything yet, so please wait until you do".

What the jury did hear were closing submissions from both the Crown and the defence for Mr Jackson. Barristers representing the other defendants will address the jury when the trial resumes on Wednesday.

Mr Harrison took to the witness stand on Monday morning where he was cross-examined by Mr Hedworth. Having previously claimed that his close friend Mr Jackson would be the "last person in the world" to commit rape, Mr Harrison was accused by the Crown of displaying "misguided loyalty" to his friends.

The jury had already heard how, at around 5am on the morning in question, Mr Harrison accompanied the complainant home in a taxi.

When Mr Harrison was asked about a text he sent minutes after leaving her, which said "keep your chin up, you wonderful young woman", he said she was upset and he wanted to make her feel better. Mr Hedworth said these were "just weasel words".

When asked why he thought the woman was so upset, Mr Harrison said he thought perhaps Mr Jackson had "rejected her", adding that he assumed "if something was properly wrong she would have told me".

It was then suggested to Mr Harrison that after the woman was subjected to an ordeal in Mr Jackson's bedroom, "you were delegated to get her home and look after her". He replied: "That's not right."

Mr Hedworth also asked about a text the woman sent to Mr Harrison later that morning saying what happened with his friends had been non-consensual. He was asked if this gave him cause for concern. Mr Harrison said: "The more I thought about it, I didn't believe it."

Regarding the witness statement he made to police two days after the incident, he was asked why he didn't tell police about the text message. He was asked: "Did you not think that was an extremely significant piece of information?" and replied: "I was never asked if there was contact between myself and [the complainant] the next day, or if there had been any contact by text. If I had been asked, I would have answered that fully."

Mr Hedworth also quizzed Mr Harrison about a lunch he had with his three co-accused on the afternoon of June 28. Mr Harrison confirmed that he didn't tell Mr Jackson or Mr Olding about the text he had received from the woman, and said that, as he didn't believe it, he didn't want to worry Mr Jackson.

Suggesting that at lunch "the wagons got circled", Mr Hedworth said "a general decision was taken as to what to say" and a "party line had to be adhered to". This was rejected by Mr Harrison, who said: "No, there was no party line."

It was also put to Mr Harrison that this was "misguided loyalty" and that, instead, he should have been "looking after the young woman that you knew full well had been traumatised by what had been done to her upstairs in that house". Mr Harrison replied: "That is also incorrect."

The trial didn't sit on Tuesday or Wednesday owing to legal arguments, but on Thursday morning Mr Hedworth took to his feet and addressed the jury.

As he summed up the Crown's case, he said it didn't matter what school the defendants went to, or how successful their rugby careers were. Rather, the barrister said, what was important was that "overbearing drunk young men... with their passions raised" used a young woman for their own sexual gratification even though they knew "she didn't consent, but they simply were not interested".

Hammering home the woman's claim that what happened was not consensual, Mr Hedworth said: "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 it must be heeded.

"The law does not say 'oh well, you let me kiss you so I can force myself upon you' and the male will decide how far things will go. The law is not 'if she was up for something then I and my friends, if they fancy, can in effect do as I and they please'.

"The world has moved on. Unfortunately the behaviour of some in our society has not. What happened in the bedroom of Patrick Jackson's home in the early hours of Tuesday, June 28, represents, we say, a throwback to the days of male entitlement."

Saying this case was not about '#metoo' or gender politics, Mr Hedworth said the crux of the trial was about the conduct of Mr Jackson, Mr Olding and Mr McIlroy against a woman whose views were not sought.

The prosecutor also spoke of Mr Harrison's conduct in the aftermath of the incident. Mr Hedworth said that rather than being a knight in shining armour who came to the woman's assistance and brought her home, Mr Harrison was more concerned about impeding the police investigation and protecting his friends - even when he was aware that the woman said what happened to her with his friends was non-consensual.

Rejecting the defence's claim that the woman was "trying to bag a celebrity" in Ollie's nightclub before going back to the party at Mr Jackson's, Mr Hedworth reminded the jury that the complainant made it quite clear she was not interested in either Northern Ireland footballers or Ulster Rugby players - both of whom had been partying in the VIP section of the Belfast club that night.

Mr Hedworth asked the jury to consider the differing versions of events given by all four defendants. And while he accepted there were inconsistencies in the accounts that the woman gave in the aftermath of the incident, he said this was not uncommon with rape victims who often experience "misguided shame, trauma and shock".

The prosecutor asked the jury to consider the evidence of the taxi driver who picked up Mr Harrison and the young woman, and who noted a female sobbing throughout the journey. He asked them to consider the 1cm tear to the woman's vaginal wall, and to consider why her first concern had been obtaining the morning after pill - despite the defendants' claims that nobody penetrated her vagina with a penis.

Mr Hedworth said: "And so, Patrick Jackson and Stuart Olding. Who cares where they went to school? Who cares about what junior team they played rugby for? Who cares which academy team they played for? Who cares about their level of success on the rugby field?

"It matters not whether you are a prince or a pauper. You are just as capable of getting yourself extremely drunk and doing something, no doubt, in the cold light of day, as you realise the consequences for yourself, you may come to regret."

The prosecutor asked the jury to decide whether the four men in the dock were self-proclaimed "legends". He also asked the jury to give "careful, thorough and detached consideration" to the evidence it had heard, adding: "You can and shall be satisfied... that each of the allegations are proved. If this is so, we invite you to return the appropriate verdicts of guilty."

Next to address the jury, on Thursday afternoon and again on Friday morning, was Mr Jackson's barrister, Brendan Kelly QC, whose closing submission comprised 15 'chapters'.

Mr Kelly asked the jurors: "Can you be sure that what started life as an allegation and is now a charge can be proven?" He said it was not a case of suspecting or guessing, but they had to ask themselves: "Am I sure? That's what it boils down to."

The defence barrister told them: "If you are sure, without hesitation, it is your duty to convict. If you are less than sure, it is your duty to acquit."

Mr Kelly branded the Crown's version of what occurred in Mr Jackson's bedroom as "flawed with inconsistencies, flawed to its core".

Pointing out that the issue in this case was one of consent, Mr Kelly said "drunken consent is still consent", adding the trial "is not a court of morals" and should not be judged on "emotion or sympathy".

He told the jury: "We may all have daughters, we may all be fathers, but that's not what this is about. This case is whether or not they, the prosecution, have brought evidence upon which you can be sure Paddy Jackson raped with his penis, then his fingers [the complainant]."

Mr Kelly then spoke of Dara Florence, the young woman who opened the door of Mr Jackson's bedroom and said she saw a threesome. In evidence, she told the jury that Mr Jackson asked if she wanted to join in - an offer she declined.

Mr Jackson's barrister asked the jury to consider what would have happened if she had agreed. He asked: "Is it really the Crown's case that half the bed would have been consenting and the other half not?"

Pointing out there were "eight adults" in the house who could have come to the complainant's assistance, Mr Kelly said: "She described herself as being frozen. You know how noise travels in that house. You have seen it with your own eyes, yet not so much as a yell."

Mr Kelly then addressed the issue of the complainant seeking the morning after pill, which he said "was not the slam dunk" the prosecution thought it was.

Instead of confirming penile rape, Mr Kelly suggested this was part of the woman's plan. The barrister said it was rather a case of, the following morning, the woman thinking to herself: "My God, this could be on social media... I have to run the line of the classic rape victim, otherwise my life is ruined."

On Friday morning, Mr Kelly returned to Ms Florence, whom he described as "absolutely vital to the case".

Reminding the jury that she told both the police and the court while giving evidence that the complainant "was not distressed", Mr Kelly said this "articulate" young woman also said sexual noises she heard on the stairs stopped when she opened the door. Why was that? he asked.

Mr Kelly branded parts of the police investigation "a shambles", and accused the complainant of lying to both her friends and medics in the aftermath of the alleged attack as she didn't want her life to be "ruined" if it emerged on social media that she had engaged in group sex.

The barrister asked why she hadn't told friends or a doctor who examined her that she had been orally raped, and that another woman had walked in on the incident.

This, the barrister said, was part of her lie that she had been raped, when instead she had engaged in group sex.

Setting out a reason for this lie, Mr Kelly said she was thinking: "If this ever gets out on social media, they will not believe it was rape. I have to maintain the lie it was vaginal rape times two by two, because if I do not, I am ruined."

Mr Kelly ended his submission by turning his attention to his client. Indicating that Mr Jackson didn't need to give evidence in the trial, but chose to do so, the barrister spoke of his good character.

Saying "Paddy Jackson is not looking for special treatment" and never "played the rugby card", Mr Kelly asked the jury to consider what the character witnesses said under oath - including his future sister-in-law who said he got more placid the more drink he consumed. Mr Kelly asked the jurors to cast their minds back to CCTV footage of Mr Jackson outside Ollie's, where he politely poses for a selfie with a woman. Urging the jury to consider his demeanour, Mr Kelly asked if, within an hour, Mr Jackson had "turned into a marauding rapist".

He concluded by saying: "Twenty months of his life has been blighted by evidence of a poor quality."

Sunday Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News