Tuesday 22 January 2019

Stop-start trial likely to last for three more weeks

With jurors absent owing to illness or to attend a funeral, proceedings in Belfast have gone way over schedule, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

Stock photo
Stock photo

Eilis O'Hanlon

When the trial began in Belfast of Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding on charges of raping a young woman at a house party in June 2016, Judge Patricia Smyth advised jurors that it was expected to last five weeks.

That was at the end of January, and, progress being what it was, it had been looking unlikely for some time that this provisional end date would be met. Sure enough, last Friday the judge told Court 12 on the fourth floor of the city's Laganside Courthouse that the high-profile trial was "not on track" and was now expected to last until the week ending March 16.

Last week was another stop and start affair, with the court sitting for two-and-a-half days out of a possible five.

Last Monday, one juror had to attend a funeral, so the day was devoted to legal argument. Thursday's proceedings were adjourned because a juror was ill.

After two days of sometimes intensive medical evidence, Friday's session brought matters right back to where it all started, as a packed court heard a transcript of the police interview with 26-year-old Ulster and Ireland fly-half Mr Jackson.

It was read into the record from the witness stand by the interrogating police officer on the day, with prosecution barrister Toby Hedworth QC reading the replies of Mr Jackson, who is charged with one count of rape and one of sexual assault.

In the transcript of the first of four interviews held on June 30, 2016, a pre-prepared statement from Mr Jackson asserted that he was "shocked and horrified" at being accused of rape and "strenuously" denied the charge.

Later, he went into greater detail about the night in question, admitting that he'd had a "good bit" to drink, and was drunk "but not falling around the place".

Back at his house after earlier going to Ollie's nightclub in the city, he said he noticed the complainant "looking at me quite a lot", concluding that she must be interested in him.

At some point, he said, he went upstairs, hoping she would follow. She did. They started kissing, and "it looked like things were going to happen". She then asked him if he knew her name. He said he didn't. She replied: "Well, nothing's going to happen now."

They returned downstairs, but around 10 or 15 minutes later he said he went back upstairs and she followed him again. They started kissing once more. At this point, he claimed, she took down his trousers and performed oral sex on him. Asked how he knew that this was consensual, he said: "She initiated it."

He admitted that he felt awkward talking about this to the police, but insisted: "I didn't force myself on her. I presumed it was happening and she wanted it to happen. She could have left if she wanted to, but she didn't."

When the complainant's allegations were put directly to him, Mr Jackson denied pushing her onto the bed, as she has claimed happened, and, asked if he ever thought he might be hurting her, said: "If I did, I would've stopped, I definitely would've stopped... if she didn't want to be there I would never have stopped her [leaving] or tried to keep her there. No way."

He also denied penetrating her with his penis. He said he put only his fingers inside her, though not his whole hand, as she also alleged. "I would never do that. That's disgusting." A little later, Mr Jackson repeated that denial: "I didn't try to put my fist up her. I wouldn't do that. That's disgusting."

Afterwards, he said, he thought the night had been a good experience, adding: "It sounds stupid because we're here now, but we thought it was good, if you know what I mean."

The court then heard an audio recording of Stuart Olding's first interview with police, during which he too described his version of events.

By his account, he walked into the room where the alleged incidents took place to find the woman straddling Mr Jackson. He said she then put out her hand to him to come over. He said they then started kissing, and she performed oral sex on him, denying that he forced the alleged victim to do so.

Proceedings will resume tomorrow with the remaining parts ofMr Olding's police interviews.

Sunday Independent

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