Saturday 21 April 2018

'Thank you for stepping out of your lives' - jury in rugby rape trial told judge can only accept unanimous verdict

Blane McIlroy, Stuart Olding, Paddy Jackson and Rory Harrison
Blane McIlroy, Stuart Olding, Paddy Jackson and Rory Harrison

Ashleigh McDonald

The jurors presiding in the trial of two Ulster rugby players accused of rape will return to Belfast Crown Court tomorrow to continue their deliberations.

Thanking the eight men and three women for "stepping out of your lives" for the past nine weeks, Judge Patricia Smyth sent them out to consider a total of six charges.

She told the jury not to speak to anyone about the trial - especially at this critical stage of the case - Judge Smyth also urged the jurors to stay away from mainstream and social media reports.

Before sending the members home for the day, the Judge asked they all return to court for 10am tomorrow.

She told them: "Members of the jury, the only verdict I can accept is a unanimous verdict, and that is a verdict in respect of which all 11 of you agree.

"You may have heard something about a majority verdict. Put that out of your mind for now. If the time comes I can accept a majority verdict, I will ask you to come back to court and I will give you some final directions."

Following the mammoth trial at Belfast Crown Court, the jury is being asked to reach a verdict on charges arising from an alleged sex attack on a 19-year old student in the bedroom of Jackson's south Belfast home in the early hours of June 28, 2016.

The complainant alleges she was raped from behind by Paddy Jackson, and during this attack, she was forced to perform oral sex on his teammate Stuart Olding.

Jackson (26), from Oakleigh Park and 25-year old Olding, from Ardenlee Street, have both denied rape, while Jackson has denied a further charge of sexual assault.

The woman also claims that Blane McIlroy then entered the bedroom, naked and with his penis in his hand, demanding sex. From Royal Lodge Road, the 26-year old denies exposure while a fourth men -  25-year-old Harrison, from Manse Road - has been charged with and denies perverting the course of justice and withholding information in the aftermath of the incident.

Before sending the jury out to deliberate, Judge Smyth addressed them in her charge, which began on Friday and ended earlier today.

She asked the members to consider a number elements of the trial when reaching their verdict - including expert evidence from the medics, the text messages sent and received by all the people involved in the case and alcohol consumption by all concerned.

They were also asked to take into account the good characters of all four defendants, the inconsistencies in their stories, and to consider what motivation the complainant would have to lie.

Judge Smyth told the jury: "The prosecution would say, what does (the complainant) have to gain by making up these allegations? Why would she make up these allegations, unless she is telling the truth.

"The prosecution must prove each defendant guilt, the defendant does not have to prove anything, and in particular they do not have to prove that they are innocent."

Judge Smyth said the defence had suggested the complainant made up the false allegations "as she was petrified pictures of her engaged in group sex would enter the public area, and thereafter, she was pressured from friends to report the matter to police, meaning that she began a process from which there is no way back.

"That is for you to decide"

Regarding the expert evidence, Judge Smyth said these witnesses were called to provide information and opinion.

She reminded the jury of two doctors who gave evidence - one who carried out an examination of the complainant at the Rowan sexual assault referral centre in Antrim, and a second medic called by the defence.

The doctor at the medical centre examined the woman hours after the alleged incident and noted purple bruising in her private area, as well as a one-cm tear in her vaginal wall. And while the two doctors disagreed on some aspects, they did agreed that the tear was caused by blunt force trauma by a penis, finger or other object - but the injury could not determine whether or not the penetration was consensual.

As with her charge on Monday, Judge Smyth again talked about the alcohol consumption by call concerned. While the Judge said on Monday that alcohol consumption didn't mean the complainant was looking for or willing to have sex, in today's address, the Judge told the jury: "All four defendants have told you they were drunk.

"Don't leap to the conclusion that just because the defendants had been drinking, they were prepared to engage in non-consensual sex."

Before they were sent out, the jurors were told none of the four men in the dock have been in trouble before, or have criminal records. She said that while "good character cannot by itself provide a defence to a criminal charge," it was up to them to choose "what weight you give to them in this case."

In addition, Judge Smyth spoke of the WhatApp and text messages sent and received by the four defendants. One such message was Olding branding them 'top shaggers'. Pointing out the defence said some of the messages were taken out of context, Judge Smyth told them to consider a "possible innocent interpretation."

The eight men and three woman were also urged by the Judge to consider the different account of events given by all four accused.

Telling them to treat the evidence given by all four men "in the same way you assess the evidence of any other witness in this case, Judge Smyth said it could be that their evidence was "tailored accordingly" - but that was for them to decide.

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