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NI twentysomethings Nicola and Andrew met via a hook-up app. He says they'd consensual sex. She says it was rape. Tonight, TV viewers can watch their fictionalised courtroom encounter

BBC NI Spotlight reporter Lyndsey Telford reveals how tonight's programme is tackling the issue of sexual consent with a one-off television event. In a courtroom experiment involving a fictitious alleged rape, a jury is asked to determine whether the accused is guilty or not guilty

For many, they were among the most revealing comments of the entire trial: "A lot of very middle class girls were downstairs. They were not going to tolerate a rape or anything like that. Why didn't she scream the house down?"

Campaigners said they laid bare the wider problems in our justice system when it comes to the prosecution of rape - condemning the fact that stereotypes and rape myths continue to find their way into our courtrooms.

Rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were unanimously acquitted of raping the same woman at the end of a 42-day trial. It was the trial that gripped Northern Ireland, and beyond, and it ended just over two months ago. But the debate about rape had heightened.

And that's when BBC Spotlight felt compelled to explore what had become an issue of significant public interest.

When does sexual activity between two adults become a crime? And how do alleged crimes of this nature proceed through our courts?

These are issues that are not confined to the recent high-profile trial - but rather, are common to rape trials that take place across Northern Ireland all the time.

In a departure from the familiar BBC Spotlight format, we have staged a television event - an ambitious programme to explore a major issue: sexual consent.

In tonight's programme, we bring a fictitious rape scenario to the screen in an extended 60-minute special. Spotlight assembles members of the public to serve as our jury. They will witness two conflicting accounts of one encounter and later judge for themselves whether a rape occurred.

We bring the viewer along too - into a courtroom. And later, to somewhere that, legally, cameras can never go: inside our jury's deliberations - lifting the lid on how a group of complete strangers struggle to reach a verdict.

In its Policy for Prosecuting Cases of Rape, the Public Prosecution Service highlights a number of so-called rape myths that should not make their way into the court room.

The idea that not screaming or resisting means that an individual must not have been raped is among those myths.

Along with the age-old stereotype of rape only being committed down dark alleys by strangers, and the myth that a victim who was drunk must have been "asking for it" - we relay these facts to our jurors.

Granted, attacks by strangers down dark alleys do occur, but the reality is you are more likely to be raped by someone you know. And often, the key question in establishing if the offence of rape occurred is whether or not there was consent.

During our research, barristers told BBC Spotlight that when it comes to consent, it's often a question of "he said, she said", with scant evidence to determine the truth. A difficulty routinely faced by police and the courts.

Indeed, this programme comes two months after retired appeal court judge Sir John Gillen was appointed to lead an independent review into the way in which serious sexual crimes are handled by the judicial system.

Campaigners tell us we're in "a time of real change" - "Northern Ireland's 'Me Too' moment".

BBC Spotlight set about finding two actors to play the parts of Nicola and Andrew - a pair of twentysomethings who meet through a hook-up app, recounting very different versions of a sexual encounter.

But what makes this programme so unique are the jurors themselves. Our production team spent weeks finding members of the public - from all backgrounds and ages.

Our location is the Royal Courts of Justice. In the scenario, devised after consultation with barristers with decades of experience prosecuting and defending rape cases, defendant Andrew describes what he perceived to be consensual sex; while complainant Nicola describes what she believed was a rape.

Their fictional testimonies are intercut with analysis from our experts, filmed in pre-recorded interviews.

A philosophy professor discusses the ethics around consent; a victims' advocate tells us about the impact of rape and the trial process on complainants; a former justice minister guides us through the need for reform; and a psychotherapist for victims, who was raped herself, tells us what it feels like.

The viewer, along with our jurors, will see the testimonies of our actors and the external evidence that is crucial to the case - such as photos, CCTV footage and mobile phone content.

Granted, this is not a real-life case. But we have been assured by a number of seasoned barristers that our scenario is indicative of the types of cases proceeding through the judicial system every day.

While our scenario is fictitious, the stakes for those affected by allegations of rape - complainant or defendant - in real life are very high. For that reason, while researching the programme, I attended a rape trial.

Having previously worked for a national broadsheet in London and before that, a press agency in Dublin, I covered a lot of big court cases. But I had never reported on rape - so the court process was unknown to me.

By finally attending a rape trial I was able to gain an understanding of it for myself.

At that trial, the complainant gave her evidence via video link. While she wasn't required to be in the court, the tension was still palpable.

I couldn't imagine how difficult it must be for those who have to undergo cross-examination in the witness box, before a packed courtroom of lawyers, journalists and members of the public.

Spotlight's scenario is a long way off a real-life trial in a genuine courtroom setting. But ultimately, they both come down to the same question: guilty or not guilty?

We delve into the criteria of convicting a rape: did sex occur, was there no consent, and did the defendant unreasonably believe in consent?

Our jurors lock horns as they try to put themselves in Andrew's mind to establish whether he knew the sex was non-consensual.

A number of our jurors go on a journey during the deliberations, seemingly swaying from one verdict to the other. But there are those who are adamant in their views - like retired teacher Sadie. She asks the male jurors to imagine themselves in the defendant's position.

"If you were having sex with some woman and she's totally inactive and she's lying with her eyes open and she's not moving, she's not saying anything," she pleads. "Would you think you had consent or would you think this is rape?"

According to the PPS, there were 415 reports or charges of rape last year. Only 64 of those made it to court and, of those, only 15 resulted in a guilty verdict.

And what those figures don't include is the number of individuals who don't report their rape in the first place.

Until change is made, there may be little change in those figures. But what campaigners and commentators want most of all is more education around the issues of consent. Only then will a potentially very grey area for many become black and white.

As the programme unfolds - do our jurors risk jailing an innocent man? Or letting a potential rapist walk free?

Of course, in 60 minutes, we could never address all the different aspects, sensitivities or emotions of a rape case. Our intent was to explore the issue of consent in the setting of a trial, based on close and detailed consultation with a number of barristers - prosecution and defence - victims' groups, academics and counsellors.

Spotlight, BBC One Northern Ireland, tonight, 10.40pm

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