How the ‘rugby rape trial’ di­vided Ire­land The long read,

The long read Af­ter a trial that dom­i­nated the news, the ac­cused were all found not guilty. But the case had tapped into a deeper rage that has not died down. By Su­san McKay

The Guardian - Journal - - Front page -

The ver­dicts were unan­i­mous and came swiftly. Af­ter a trial that had lasted nine weeks, with four de­fen­dants and mul­ti­ple charges, the jury de­lib­er­ated for just un­der four hours. On 28 March this year, Belfast’s largest crim­i­nal court­room was packed to the doors – which were locked to pre­vent more on­look­ers from pil­ing in. The jury fore­man, a tall woman, stood up, and as the judge read out each of the charges, she replied: “Not guilty.”

The Ire­land rugby player Paddy Jack­son was found not guilty of rape and not guilty of as­sault. His team mate Stuart Old­ing was found not guilty of rape. Their friend Blane McIlroy was found not guilty of ex­po­sure. The fourth man, their friend Rory Har­ri­son, was found not guilty of con­ceal­ing ev­i­dence and at­tempt­ing to per­vert the course of jus­tice.

Out­side the court build­ing on the River La­gan, the crowd pressed in, cam­er­a­phones aloft, as the men emerged. The trial had dom­i­nated the news in Ire­land. The ev­i­dence had been sex­u­ally ex­plicit, and had been de­bated heat­edly, and in great de­tail, at bus stops, shops and bars and around din­ner ta­bles. The #Me­Too move­ment was in full flow, and women from all over the is­land of Ire­land were telling painful sto­ries of sex­ual hu­mil­i­a­tions at the hands of men.

Men and women were ap­palled by the sex­ist at­ti­tudes the young men dis­played in pri­vate so­cial me­dia con­ver­sa­tions that had been aired in ev­i­dence. Oth­ers fo­cused their anger on the ju­di­cial process. The com­plainant had to spend eight days in the wit­ness box, be­ing cross-ex­am­ined by four sets of bar­ris­ters, all men. Her blood­ied thong was passed to the jury.

Yet oth­ers were out­raged on be­half of the de­fen­dants, point­ing to flaws and in­con­sis­ten­cies in the com­plainant’s ev­i­dence. The case should never have got to court, they said. They felt it was un­just that the de­fen­dants were named and pho­tographed – al­most ev­ery day, their pho­to­graphs were dis­played along­side shock­ing head­lines. Their names and faces re­main no­to­ri­ous, de­spite the not guilty ver­dict, and the whole process has been dam­ag­ing to their ca­reers. Dur­ing the trial, the Ir­ish rugby team – which in­cor­po­rates play­ers from the whole is­land – won the grand slam at the Six Na­tions. Eight months later, they

de­feated New Zealand and swept the board at the World Rugby awards. It was the great­est year in Ire­land’s rugby his­tory – and Jack­son and Old­ing missed it.

The ver­dicts would not lay this case to rest. Months af­ter it ended, the “Belfast rugby rape trial”, as it be­came known, is still dis­turb­ing pub­lic de­bate in Ire­land, north and south.

It was an early sum­mer morn­ing in 2016 and just begin­ning to get light when a taxi driver picked up two young peo­ple on Belfast’s Raven­hill Road. The young woman, the driver could see, was sob­bing and lean­ing into the young man, her head on his chest, his arm around her, as they sat in the back seat. She gave her ad­dress – a house in a wealthy south Belfast neigh­bour­hood. As the driver told the court, he heard the young man talk­ing qui­etly on the phone: “She’s with me now, she’s not good. I’ll call you in the morn­ing.” As the man walked the woman to her front door, the driver no­ticed her white trousers had a dark stain.

Soon af­ter he dropped her off, the young man texted her. “Keep your chin up you won­der­ful young woman.” She replied im­me­di­ately: “Thank you so much for leav­ing me home, I re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate it, you’ve been far too kind.” “My plea­sure,” he re­sponded.

The young man was Rory Har­ri­son. They had met the night be­fore, out­side Ol­lie’s night­club in the city’s fash­ion­able Cathe­dral Quar­ter. It was late, the club was clos­ing and groups of young peo­ple were surg­ing out look­ing for taxis. There had been a lot of sports­men in the club that night. Har­ri­son, who worked in in­sur­ance, was with his old school friends Blane McIlroy, home from the US, and two ris­ing stars of Ul­ster and Ir­ish rugby, Paddy Jack­son and Stuart Old­ing, who were cel­e­brat­ing the end of a suc­cess­ful tour of South Africa with the Ire­land team, and the start of a month off.

The men were in their 20s, drink­ing in the VIP sec­tion. Jack­son posed for self­ies with fans. The young woman, who was 19, had just fin­ished re­sit­ting her A-level ex­ams. She’d been with friends – but af­ter leav­ing the club, she ended up in a taxi with Jack­son and oth­ers head­ing back to his house. She did not know any of them, and later couldn’t re­call who in­vited her. There had been a lot of al­co­hol drunk, par­tic­u­larly by the men.

The townhouse Jack­son shared with his brother was off the Raven­hill Road, where hand­some Vic­to­rian ter­races edge against poorer ar­eas that still have loy­al­ist flags and mu­rals. The Kingspan sta­dium, Ul­ster rugby’s home ground, is nearby. It was a small party: Jack­son and his three mates, the young woman, and three other women who had also been at the night­club, Dara Florence and her friends Claire Matthews and Emily Docherty.

As the court heard, the young woman and Jack­son kissed in his bed­room. Ac­cord­ing to her ac­count, she re­buffed him when he tried to open her trousers. He de­nied this, say­ing that she got an­noyed when he ad­mit­ted he did not know her name. They re­turned down­stairs.

Pho­tos and videos shown in court gave glimpses of the party. There’s McIlroy grin­ning, manspread­ing on the sofa with the other young women draped about play­fully. There he is mim­ing sex­ual move­ments on top of Claire Matthews on the floor. There’s McIlroy with Old­ing. They have their trousers down, fac­ing the other young women on the sofa, danc­ing in their boxer shorts.

In a text read out in court, the young woman said that the girls had got “slutty” and that she de­cided to leave. She is seen in one of the pho­tos ap­par­ently putting on her heels. Then, she said, she went up­stairs again to find her bag. Some time af­ter, two of the women,

Dara Florence and Claire Matthews, de­cided to leave, and went to look for their friend Emily Docherty. They heard groan­ing, which sounded sex­ual, com­ing from one of the rooms. Think­ing it might be her friend, Dara Florence opened the door.

In­side, she saw Jack­son on the bed per­form­ing a sex act on the woman they did not know. Jack­son’s rugby team­mate, Old­ing, was ly­ing on his back and the woman ap­peared to be giv­ing him oral sex. The woman turned her face away. Jack­son didn’t stop when the door opened. “Do you want to join in?” he asked. Florence said, “No, I’m OK.” He said, “Are you sure?”

As the court heard, Florence went out, clos­ing the door be­hind her. “Oh my God,” she said to her friend, laugh­ing. “I think I just saw a three­some.” Down­stairs, McIlroy asked her to have sex with him. She re­jected him, and the two women left.

In the morn­ing, Emily Docherty woke up on a sofa in another room in the house. She had drunk too much, got sick and gone off to sleep be­fore any of these events hap­pened. She watched Game of Thrones on TV with the men, then went home in a taxi. She would later find a photo of a pe­nis on her phone.

The day af­ter the party , the young men were buzzing on so­cial me­dia. They were, var­i­ously, in sev­eral What­sApp groups, and their mes­sages were read out in court. In one group, Old­ing said there’d been an af­ter-party and a friend, later iden­ti­fied as a fel­low Ul­ster rugby player, re­sponded: “Any sluts get fucked?” Old­ing replied: “Pre­cious se­crets” (a ref­er­ence, he would say, to Lord of the Rings). He also boasted: “There was a bit of spitroast­ing go­ing on last night fel­las.” Jack­son said: “There was a lot of spit roast last night.”

The young woman was also in touch with her friends that morn­ing. Ac­cord­ing to ev­i­dence pro­duced by the pros­e­cu­tion dur­ing the trial, she mes­saged one of them: “Worst night ever, so I got raped.” To another, she wrote: “So I got raped by 3 Ul­ster fuck­ing rugby scum bril­liant fuck­ing night.” She said “a re­ally nice guy” had brought her home. Her friends urged her to go to the po­lice. “I’m not go­ing up against Ul­ster rugby. Yea be­cause that’ll work,” she replied. It would be her word against theirs, she said, and “they’ll have the same fab­ri­cated story about me be­ing some slut who was up for it”, they’d say she was a “stupid lit­tle girl” who had re­gret­ted what she’d done. The young men had, she said, “that school­boy rugby at­ti­tude times a mil­lion”. Her friends urged her to go to a rape cri­sis cen­tre and to get med­i­cal help, and the morn­ing-af­ter pill.

Some of the mes­sages be­tween the men in var­i­ous groups were deleted and could not be re­cov­ered, oth­ers were deleted but re­trieved and read out in court. Har­ri­son mes­saged McIlroy: “Mate no joke she was in hys­ter­ics, wasn’t go­ing to end well.” Har­ri­son re­ceived a mes­sage from McIlroy: “Re­ally, fuck sake, did you calm her, where does she live?” Har­ri­son wrote: “Aye, just threw her home and then went back to mine.” At 12.15pm the day af­ter the party, the young woman replied to a ques­tion from Har­ri­son: “To be hon­est no, I know you must be mates with those guys but I didn’t like them. And what hap­pened was not con­sen­sual which is why I was so up­set. Again, thank you for tak­ing me home.” Min­utes later he replied: “Je­sus.” And then: “I’m not sure what to say.” Af­ter that there was no fur­ther con­tact be­tween them.

Mean­while, the men were plan­ning lunch. Har­ri­son wrote to McIlroy: “Mate the scenes last night were hi­lar­i­ous.” McIlroy replied: “It was a good night, I loved it.” Har­ri­son wrote: “Walked up­stairs and there were more flutes than the 12th of July.” The four of them met at Soul Food on the Ormeau Road, on the other side of the park from the Raven­hill.

Around lunchtime, one of the young woman’s friends drove to her house to bring her to the Belfast rape cri­sis cen­tre. Her friend had been try­ing to con­tact the cen­tre by phone, with­out suc­cess. As she told the court, she no­ticed that the young woman sat down in her car “gin­gerly”, and that she was emo­tional. They could not find the cen­tre at its listed ad­dress – it had, in fact ceased to op­er­ate some years pre­vi­ously. They found the Brooke sex­ual health ad­vice cen­tre around the cor­ner, just up the street from Ol­lie’s night­club. The young woman told a coun­sel­lor she had been raped. He urged her to go to the Rowan, North­ern Ire­land’s ded­i­cated sex­ual as­sault treat­ment cen­tre. Another friend drove her there that evening and a doc­tor ex­am­ined her and took foren­sic swabs. She was bleed­ing and the doc­tor iden­ti­fied a lac­er­a­tion in her vagina. On Wed­nes­day morn­ing, two days af­ter the night out at Ol­lie’s, she called the po­lice. The next morn­ing, she made her first state­ment.

The young woman told po­lice she had gone up­stairs to get her bag from Jack­son’s room. She did not know if he fol­lowed her or if he was al­ready there. She said he pushed her on to his bed and pulled down her trousers from be­hind. He’d been “so rough, rough with me”. When Old­ing came in and be­gan to undo his trousers, she said: “I was like Paddy please no, not him too.”

She said Old­ing had forced her head on his pe­nis. The men de­nied these al­le­ga­tions. Jack­son said he did not pen­e­trate her with his pe­nis, and both men said all of the sex was con­sen­sual.

Dur­ing her long stint in the wit­ness box, she de­scribed her feel­ing of panic, how she tried to block ev­ery­thing out. She said that when McIlroy en­tered, naked and hold­ing his erect pe­nis, he asked her: “You fucked the oth­ers, why won’t you fuck me?” She said she replied, “How many times does it take for a girl to say no for it to sink in?” Then she ran down­stairs and out of the house. She said she had to run back in to get her phone, and at that point Har­ri­son brought her home.

On Wed­nes­day, McIlroy con­tin­ued boast­ing on What­sApp: “Spitroasted a bird with Jacko. Roasted her. Another on Tues­day.”

On Thurs­day morn­ing Jack­son and Old­ing were hav­ing another hun­gover break­fast. Shortly af­ter mid­day, Jack­son got a call. It was from his boss, Les

Kiss, then di­rec­tor of Ul­ster rugby. Kiss told him a “grave mat­ter” had arisen and he was to go to Mus­grave Street po­lice sta­tion, and to con­tact a solic­i­tor. Mo­ments later, Old­ing got a sim­i­lar call. Jack­son sig­nalled the wait­ress, and can­celled his or­der for pan­cakes. The party was over.

Later that day Har­ri­son texted McIlroy: “Hope­fully it will just get dropped. Just a silly girl who’s done some­thing then re­gret­ted it. She’s caus­ing so much trou­ble for the lads.”

The peace process and the Good Fri­day agree­ment of 1998 fin­ished North­ern Ire­land as an in­ter­na­tional news story. News­pa­pers closed their Belfast bu­reaus and re­as­signed re­porters. But at the end of Jan­uary 2018 the “Belfast rugby rape trial” brought the press pack back. A sec­tion of the pub­lic gallery in North­ern Ire­land’s largest crim­i­nal court­room had to be sec­tioned off to ac­com­mo­date re­porters. Around the cor­ner, out­side the high court, demon­stra­tions by fam­i­lies of peo­ple mur­dered dur­ing the Trou­bles car­ried on, largely un­re­marked by those hur­ry­ing to “the trial”.

Dur­ing the Trou­bles, North­ern Ire­land was an armed pa­tri­archy. Vic­tims of rape and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence were ex­pected to keep quiet. Fem­i­nism was largely re­garded as ir­rel­e­vant. North­ern Ire­land is now the only part of the UK and Ire­land that has nei­ther mar­riage equal­ity nor abor­tion rights. To­day, rates of re­port­ing of crimes of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and rape are ris­ing. From 2016 to 2017, 823 re­ports of rape were made to the po­lice. Out of those hun­dreds of re­ported rapes, there were just 15 con­vic­tions – a rate of 1.8%, the low­est in the UK.

For al­most ev­ery day of the 42-day “rugby rape trial”,

Now that the trial was over, the rage that had been build­ing up burst the dams of le­gal pro­pri­ety

and for weeks af­ter, the story made the front pages and the broad­cast head­lines on both sides of the bor­der. These were men nur­tured since early child­hood for their sport­ing tal­ent at prepara­tory and gram­mar schools, where skill at rugby is val­ued more highly than any other abil­ity. Rugby has tra­di­tion­ally been the sport of that sec­tion of the North­ern Ire­land mid­dle classes known as “gar­den-cen­tre Prods”, sub­ur­ban pro­fes­sion­als who steered clear of pol­i­tics but were solidly and se­curely union­ist and with tra­di­tional so­cial val­ues. Through­out the Trou­bles, rugby fans trav­elled to matches in Dublin’s Lans­downe Road while lament­ing the sec­tar­i­an­ism that flared up around soc­cer games. In re­cent years, teams have been set up in Catholic gram­mar schools too.

Af­ter they were charged in sum­mer 2017, Jack­son and Old­ing were sus­pended by Ul­ster rugby and its gov­ern­ing body, the Ir­ish Rugby Foot­ball Union (IRFU) for the du­ra­tion of the pro­ceed­ings. Jack­son would miss his chance to play in the Six Na­tions cham­pi­onship, which started within days of the open­ing of the trial. Dur­ing breaks, lawyers could be heard ex­cit­edly dis­cussing the Ir­ish team’s dra­matic progress to vic­tory. The court sat on the morn­ing of the day the team won the grand slam against Eng­land at Twick­en­ham.

The par­ents and fam­i­lies of the four ac­cused men at­tended faith­fully, of­ten hemmed in by mem­bers of the pub­lic – some of whom made no se­cret of their en­joy­ment of the ev­i­dence, de­liv­er­ing crude re­ports on their phones dur­ing breaks, spec­u­lat­ing loudly as to how it was go­ing. There were oc­ca­sional out­bursts of anger and dis­tress. When the com­plainant wept, one woman was heard to scoff: “Chok­ing on her lies.”

Though the young woman’s anonymity was le­gally pro­tected, her name was men­tioned many times most days and was soon cir­cu­lat­ing on so­cial me­dia along with pho­tos pur­port­ing to be her – and vir­u­lent com­men­tary.

She had been “treated like a piece of meat”, she told the court. There was no part of her that had not been touched. She spoke of the phys­i­cal strength of the two men. One of the de­fence bar­ris­ters put it to her that she was “mov­ing from truth to un­truth, or false­hood and self delu­sion”. There were in­con­sis­ten­cies in her ev­i­dence, and she ad­mit­ted her mem­o­ries of the events were “slightly hazy”. Asked why she did not cry out for help, she said she “froze”. She de­scribed a sense of it be­ing as if she was not there.

The de­fen­dants came and went from the court­room with the pub­lic, and would with elab­o­rate chivalry hold open doors and usher women out be­fore them. The de­fen­dants all gave ev­i­dence, and were de­clared to be of good char­ac­ter by var­i­ous wit­nesses. Wit­nesses tes­ti­fied to Jack­son’s char­ity work on be­half of peo­ple with can­cer and men­tal health is­sues, his habit of sketch­ing su­per­heroes, his will­ing­ness to pose with fans for self­ies. A re­tired nurse told the court a story about how Har­ri­son had helped her daugh­ter on to a bus with a suit­case. He was, she said, “a per­fect young gen­tle­man”.

Jack­son said the com­plainant led him on. He said he used his fin­gers “on her down­stairs re­gion”. He de­nied try­ing to force his hand in­side her. “That’s dis­gust­ing,” he said. He in­sisted he did not force him­self on her and that she did not have to stay. “It just hap­pened,” he said.

The pre­sid­ing judge, Pa­tri­cia Smyth , is­sued re­peated warn­ings about so­cial me­dia com­men­tary through­out the trial, while also in­struct­ing the jury on a daily ba­sis to stay away from read­ing it. How­ever, while main­stream re­porters stuck with le­gal re­port­ing rules, the muf­fled roar from im­pas­sioned and highly par­ti­san so­cial me­dia com­men­ta­tors per­sisted. One ques­tion posed by a de­fence bar­ris­ter dur­ing his sum­ming up pro­voked out­rage. The bar­ris­ter said: “Why didn’t she scream? … There were a lot of mid­dle-class girls down­stairs – they weren’t go­ing to tol­er­ate a rape or any­thing like that.” The leader of the po­lit­i­cally pro­gres­sive Al­liance party, Naomi Long, posted on Twit­ter: “I gen­uinely have no words for how atro­cious this state­ment is. ‘Mid­dle-class girls?’ What? Be­cause work­ing-class girls wouldn’t care/don’t mat­ter/think rape is nor­mal? What is the im­pli­ca­tion of that com­ment even meant to be?”

Ul­ti­mately, the trial came down to the ques­tion of con­sent. The judge ex­plained that the jury had to reach a ver­dict based on an un­der­stand­ing of con­sent in terms of “en­thu­si­as­tic con­sent”, “re­luc­tant con­sent” and “sub­mis­sion”, which does not im­ply con­sent. The foren­sics ex­pert had also in­tro­duced the no­tion of “al­low­ing it to hap­pen”.

The ver­dicts were de­liv­ered on 28 March. Jack­son and Old­ing were found not guilty of rape, Har­ri­son and McIlroy of the lesser of­fences. The state had not proved its case be­yond all rea­son­able doubt. The men were free to go. Out­side the courts, Jack­son’s solic­i­tor read a strik­ingly an­gry state­ment: Jack­son had been “en­tirely in­no­cent”, he said, and the ver­dict was “com­mon sense”. His client had been con­sis­tent in his de­nials, he said, un­like the com­plainant. He de­nounced the “vile com­men­tary on so­cial me­dia” and in par­tic­u­lar toxic con­tent on Twit­ter that had “pol­luted” the process. Jack­son’s pri­or­ity now was to get back to the rugby pitch “to rep­re­sent his province and his coun­try”.

Old­ing had writ­ten a state­ment that was read out by his solic­i­tor, markedly dif­fer­ent in tone from his friend and team­mate’s: “I want to ac­knowl­edge pub­licly that although I com­mit­ted no crim­i­nal of­fence, I re­gret deeply the events of that evening. I want to ac­knowl­edge that the com­plainant came and gave her per­cep­tion of those events. I am sorry for the hurt caused to the com­plainant.” He did not agree with her per­cep­tion. He had told the truth. He was “fiercely proud” to have rep­re­sented his province and his coun­try, and wanted to prove him­self again.

A young woman with blond hair stood silently on a low wall be­hind the thin­ning crowd. She was hold­ing a small plac­ard which read: “I be­lieve her.” It was an echo of the hash­tag that had been trending on Twit­ter dur­ing the trial. That day, Ir­ish Labour sen­a­tor Aod­hán Ó’Ríordáin, us­ing the hash­tag #IBelieveHer, tweeted praise for the com­plainant’s courage and re­ferred to the de­fen­dants as “smug” and “well-con­nected”. Jack­son’s lawyers at the prom­i­nent law firm KRW an­nounced he would be tak­ing le­gal ac­tion for defama­tion. The sen­a­tor took the post down and apol­o­gised, but pro­test­ers started us­ing the hash­tag #SueMePaddy.

Tra­di­tional me­dia con­tin­ued to state that they re­spected the ver­dict of the jury. How­ever, the trial had tapped into deep and pow­er­ful feel­ings, and now that it was over, the rage that had been build­ing up burst the dams of le­gal pro­pri­ety. Many women and some men shared, pub­licly or pri­vately, sto­ries of sex­ual en­coun­ters with misog­y­nis­tic men. Peo­ple traded vi­o­lent in­sults on so­cial me­dia. One woman tweeted that Jack­son and any­one who sup­ported him should “go fuck a bag of glass”. To the charge of misog­yny was added racism af­ter a pho­to­graph sur­faced show­ing Jack­son “blacked up” as a slave for a fancy dress event. A mem­ber of a re­gional foot­ball team tweeted: “De­lighted for Paddy Jack­son that tramp of a thing should be locked up now and for the girls that ab­so­lutely butchered him FUCK YOUS TOO SLUTS #jus­tice­for­paddy.”

In the days that fol­lowed the ver­dict, fem­i­nists held hastily or­gan­ised ral­lies, at­tended by thou­sands of pre­dom­i­nantly young peo­ple, in Belfast, Dublin, Gal­way and Cork. There was an at­mos­phere of rage and dis­tress. Pro­test­ers car­ried posters that said: “I be­lieve her” and “I’d rather be sued than raped”. Women chanted: “Sue me Paddy.” Kel­lie Tur­tle, one of the or­gan­is­ers of the Belfast rally in sup­port of the com­plainant, works for the Belfast Fem­i­nist Net­work. It wasn’t just about the ver­dict, she said. “Peo­ple were just so ap­palled by the whole thing – the way some of the bar­ris­ters used myths about rape, the ag­gres­sion some di­rected at the woman when she gave ev­i­dence – and all this in a court of law. We felt that there was such rage and hurt among women that we ur­gently needed to cre­ate an out­let.”

A group of fem­i­nists placed a crowd­funded ad in the Belfast Tele­graph calling for the rugby author­i­ties to ban Jack­son and Old­ing for their “rep­re­hen­si­ble” so­cial me­dia ex­changes. A group of Ul­ster rugby fans re­tal­i­ated, tak­ing out a front-page ad on the same pa­per, de­cry­ing the “cy­ber per­se­cu­tion” of men who had been ac­quit­ted of any crime. “We want these in­no­cent men re­in­stated and rightly al­lowed to re­sume their roles for both club and coun­try,” the ad said.

On 6 April, Jack­son is­sued a new state­ment. The crit­i­cism he had at­tracted for “de­grad­ing and of­fen­sive” What­sApp group chats was “fully jus­ti­fied”. He had be­trayed the val­ues he had been brought up with, “the most im­por­tant of which is re­spect”. Sev­eral hun­dred women, unim­pressed by his con­tri­tion, pick­eted the next game at the Kingspan sta­dium, de­mand­ing that Ul­ster Rugby: “stamp out misog­yny”. A young girl ac­com­pa­ny­ing her fa­ther to the match wore a T-shirt with the slo­gan: “I sup­port Paddy Jack­son.”

In April 2018 the Ir­ish Rugby Foot­ball Union is­sued a state­ment. Cit­ing its “re­spon­si­bil­ity and com­mit­ment to the core val­ues of the game: re­spect, in­clu­siv­ity and in­tegrity”, it said it had reached a de­ci­sion. Jack­son and Old­ing were sacked with im­me­di­ate ef­fect.

Some of the spon­sors of Ir­ish rugby had made it known that they had ob­served the trial with dis­quiet, given the fam­ily and com­mu­nity val­ues they wish to be seen to up­hold. The Bank of Ire­land had said it was “se­ri­ously con­cerned”, and was re­view­ing its re­la­tion­ship with the team. The rugby author­i­ties had, in the af­ter­math of the trial, an­nounced a re­view.

I sought out Belfast rugby fans to ask them about the case, and heard from men who be­lieved in a broth­er­hood rooted in loy­alty. Some of the men spoke of a “rugby cul­ture” that in­cluded “good craic” ini­ti­a­tions like: “run­ning about naked or with a toi­let roll on your wil­lie, turn­ing up bol­lock naked in shops … ”. They spoke of “girls who liked ‘sports rodeos’”. They spoke of “Ul­ster rugby sluts”. One man summed up the whole case like this: “Look, the boys had done well in South Africa. They were on a bender. These are horn­balls. Their bags were full and they found a way of emp­ty­ing them. It’s just ban­ter and boys be­ing boys.”

Those con­cerned with the im­pact on women from “boys be­ing boys” took a dif­fer­ent view. Noeline Black­well, the di­rec­tor of Dublin’s rape cri­sis cen­tre, said she had never called for the play­ers to be sacked. The big­ger is­sue, she said, was the in­di­ca­tion that “the ab­so­lute lack of re­spect for women” shown by these men might be widely shared within rugby cul­ture. She wel­comed Ir­ish rugby’s pledge in its state­ment on the sack­ings to re­view its ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme.

Shortly af­ter the trial, the gov­ern­ment ap­pointed re­tired judge Sir John Gillen to con­duct a re­view of the law and pro­ce­dure on se­ri­ous sex­ual of­fences in North­ern Ire­land. Fem­i­nists were war­ily hope­ful when he said he was in­spired by the #Me­Too move­ment.

His pre­lim­i­nary find­ings were pre­sented in Novem­ber and are cur­rently out for pub­lic con­sul­ta­tion. Gillen rec­om­mended ex­clu­sion of the pub­lic from rape tri­als, and ed­u­ca­tion start­ing in schools, for the wider pub­lic and those work­ing in the jus­tice sys­tem, on the re­al­i­ties and myths of rape.

“The re­port is ex­tremely pos­i­tive,” said fem­i­nist ac­tivist Kel­lie Tur­tle. The trial, as it is still com­monly known, had brought about “such an out­pour­ing of anger and emo­tion and sol­i­dar­ity all over Ire­land”, she said, Gillen’s re­port brought relief. “It feels like he has lis­tened to us and he is am­pli­fy­ing our voices, bring­ing them in from the mar­gins.”

In the wake of the trial, the Ir­ish gov­ern­ment also an­nounced a re­view of how its jus­tice sys­tem deals with rape tri­als – in par­tic­u­lar, how com­plainants could be bet­ter pro­tected. Tur­tle said there was “an amaz­ing sense of achieve­ment” among fem­i­nists who had been cam­paign­ing for decades for change.

Pur­sued by a scat­ter­ing of an­gry so­cial me­dia posts, Jack­son and Old­ing had both got jobs by sum­mer 2018 with re­gional rugby clubs in France. A se­nior fig­ure in the Ir­ish rugby author­i­ties said they had not ruled out a re­turn to the Ir­ish and Ul­ster teams. A man in his 30s was fined £300 af­ter he ad­mit­ted nam­ing the com­plainant on so­cial me­dia. Since the trial, the young woman has not spo­ken pub­licly. •

Dur­ing breaks, lawyers could be heard dis­cussing the Ir­ish team’s progress to Six Na­tions vic­tory


Paddy Jack­son speaks to the me­dia af­ter be­ing ac­quit­ted, March 2018


Protests in Dublin fol­low­ing the not guilty ver­dicts, March 2018


An I Be­lieve Her rally in Belfast, March 2018

From left: Paddy Jack­son, Stuart O Old­ing, Blane McIlroy and Rory Har­ri­son

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