Rugby stars, a boozy party and a ver­dict that sparked mass protests

Daily Mail - - Confidential - By Emine Sin­maz

‘It was like a merry-go-round’

FOR nine weeks the trial of two rugby play­ers has been at the cen­tre of de­bate in North­ern Ire­land – bring­ing un­prece­dented cov­er­age and dom­i­nat­ing so­cial me­dia.

Over 42 days, the case against Paddy Jack­son and Stu­art Old­ing has played out in front of a packed 100-seat pub­lic gallery – and drawn what one of the de­fen­dant’s lawyers called a ‘vile com­men­tary’ on­line.

On Wed­nes­day the jury’s ver­dict of not guilty on all charges – re­turned af­ter less than four hours – trig­gered protests on both sides of the bor­der in Belfast, Cork, Lim­er­ick, and Dublin, as thou­sands de­clared: ‘I be­lieve her.’

But the case it­self cen­tred on a party at Mr Jack­son’s home in 2016 – at which Ire­land rugby in­ter­na­tion­als Mr Jack­son, 26, and Mr Old­ing, 25, were ac­cused of at­tack­ing a 19-year-old.

Mr Jack­son also faced a charge of sex­ual as­sault in the early hours of June 28, 2016 while Blane McIl­roy, 26, was ac­cused of ex­po­sure, and Rory Har­ri­son, 25, was ac­cused of per­vert­ing the course of jus­tice and with­hold­ing in­for­ma­tion.

Belfast Crown Court heard the woman had been with friends in the VIP area of Ol­lie’s night­club in Belfast and, at about 2.30am, was stand­ing out­side with a small num­ber of women when she de­cided to go with them to Mr Jack­son’s home.

At some stage she and Mr Jack­son went to his bed­room. Open­ing the case in Jan­uary, Toby Hed­worth, pros­e­cut­ing, told the court: ‘She does re­call that at one stage she was in that room and was con­sen­su­ally kiss­ing him, but had made it plain to him that she would go no fur­ther.’

They re­turned down­stairs and later she de­cided to leave ‘be­cause the at­mos­phere changed’, re­turn­ing to the bed­room for her bag. Mr Hed­worth said: ‘She had not re­turned up the stairs with Jack­son but he had fol­lowed her up and into bed­room, where he pushed her onto the bed be­fore pulling her trousers and pants down.’

The pros­e­cu­tion al­leged Mr Jack­son raped her. Mr Hed­worth added: ‘ He had not in any way sought her con­sent and in­deed had used force to achieve his aim.’

The jury was told the woman did not try to fight off Mr Jack­son but was ‘numb’. When Mr Old­ing en­tered the room, it was claimed she re­called say­ing: ‘ Please, not him as well.’ Mr Hed­worth said Mr Old­ing forced her to per­form oral sex while she was be­ing raped by Mr Jack­son. The jury was told a text mes­sage was sent by Mr McIl­roy ask­ing: ‘Is there a pos­si­bil­ity of a three­some?’ Mr Hed­worth said: ‘That was not replied to but at a point when Jack­son and Old­ing were de­sist­ing from their at­tack, the door of the bed­room opened and McIl­roy en­tered, stark naked.’

The woman’s ev­i­dence was heard over eight days, dur­ing which she was screened from the court, while the four de­fen­dants, who all Not guilty: Paddy Jack­son, 26 de­nied the charges against them, each took the stand for half a day. The jury was told What­sApp mes­sages posted af­ter the in­ci­dent Not guilty: Stu­art Old­ing, 25 gave a ‘true flavour’ of the men’s at­ti­tude. Mr Old­ing wrote: ‘We are all top sh***ers’, adding: ‘It was like a merry-go-around at a car­nival.’ Wit­ness Dara Florence – the only one in the house who had not been drink­ing – proved cru­cial to both the pros­e­cu­tion and de­fence cases. She said she had opened the door and seen what she termed a ‘three­some’ with no signs of dis­tress.

But she also said she was ‘100 per cent’ cer­tain she had wit­nessed Mr Jack­son hav­ing pen­e­tra­tive sex with the woman – de­spite his de­nial this had taken place. Bren­dan Kelly QC, for Mr Jack­son, put it to Miss Florence that she had ‘as­sumed’ this, but she told him: ‘I saw sex.’

Mr Kelly called her ev­i­dence ex­traor­di­nary, telling the jury: ‘When peo­ple com­mit crime they tend to hide, they tend to con­ceal what they did be­cause they don’t want to get caught.

‘What did these two vi­o­lent rapists do when she walked in? They in­vited her to join in. Dara Florence is ab­so­lutely cen­tral to this case.’ Mr Old­ing said the oral sex had been con­sen­sual.

Mr McIl­roy also said any sex­ual ac­tiv­ity had been con­sen­sual.

The de­fence lawyers were crit­i­cised by women’s groups for com­ments about the ac­cuser, whom they said had been ‘on a mis­sion to party’ and went to the VIP area specif­i­cally to meet foot­ballers.

Frank O’Donoghue QC, rep­re­sent­ing Mr Old­ing, was crit­i­cised for ask­ing why the woman had not cried out, say­ing: ‘A lot of very mid­dle­class girls were down­stairs. They were not go­ing to tol­er­ate a rape or any­thing like that.’

At the end of the trial, one of North­ern Ire­land’s long­est ever rape cases, it took the jury of eight men and three women three hours and 45 min­utes to re­turn the not­guilty ver­dicts – spark­ing the wave of protest sup­port­ing the ac­cuser.

‘I be­lieve her’: Pro­test­ers gather in Belfast on Thurs­day to demon­strate over the not-guilty ver­dicts in the rape case

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.