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Sunday 19 August 2018

Two quizzed by PSNI after rape trial woman named on social media

Stuart Olding (left) looks on as his solicitor Paul Dougan (centre) speaks to the media outside Belfast Crown Court after the verdict on Wednesday. Photo: PA
Stuart Olding (left) looks on as his solicitor Paul Dougan (centre) speaks to the media outside Belfast Crown Court after the verdict on Wednesday. Photo: PA
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

TWO people have been questioned by police for allegedly revealing the identity of the complainant in the Belfast rape trial on social media.

Complainants in rape trials in Ireland and the UK are entitled to anonymity and it is an offence to publish their identity.

However, a worrying feature of the trial of Ireland and Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding and two of their friends was that the complainant’s name appeared in a number of social media posts.

A photograph purporting to be the woman was also widely distributed on online messaging services, such as WhatsApp.

A spokesman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) told the Irish Independent two people had been interviewed in relation to an offence under Section 5 of the UK’s Sexual Offences Amendment Act 1992.

This prohibits the publication of the name or images of a rape complainant.

The spokesman said the investigation was ongoing and two files had been forwarded to the North’s Public Prosecutions Service for consideration.

Facebook and Twitter have said they are happy to assist the PSNI and An Garda Síochána in such cases and have provided information sought by both police forces in the past.

Although the situation is not thought to have arisen in the Republic of Ireland, where the public is excluded from rape trials, it has occurred in the UK before. A number of people were fined for revealing online the identity of the complainant in the rape case involving English footballer Ched Evans.

The development in the PSNI investigation emerged as a lawyer for Mr Olding suggested police could also investigate social media postings which could be viewed as inciting hatred against the defendants in the trial.

“If people abuse social media and public platforms and promulgate hateful or offensive or abusive messaging, where a criminal offence has been committed, then of course the police should investigate it,” solicitor Paul Dougan told the Irish Independent.

“If any of these defendants were on the receiving end of a tirade of abusive vitriol that crosses that line, then of course the police should investigate that as they would any other case.”

It is not believed the PSNI has received a complaint from any of the four defendants. One would be required for a criminal investigation to be launched.

Mr Dougan described the social media commentary in the trial as “unprecedented” for Northern Ireland.

“It is the first time we have had to grapple with that as a major issue,” he said.

“In this particular case, it was front and centre. I don’t think anyone appreciated the sheer extent of interest from start through to finish.”

Mr Dougan said there was merit in the system in the Republic, where defendants in rape trials cannot be named prior to conviction, and then only if this does not tend to identify the victim.

He said the social media situation “might never have happened” if the case was tried in the Republic as the accused parties would never have been named and the public would not have had access to the trial.

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