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Rugby rape trial: The case which has captivated Northern Ireland

Judge Patricia Smyth directs jurors at the trial of two Ulster and Ireland rugby players for the rape of a 19-year-old woman. Laurence White reports on week eight of the case that has captivated the country.

Warning: These reports may be upsetting

There may be four men in the dock of Court 12 at Laganside Courthouse, but the media spotlight has shone most intensely on two of them - Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

They face the most serious charge - of raping a 19-year-old woman one June night in 2016 - but they also have a certain celebrity cachet, having played rugby for both Ulster and Ireland.

Read more: Rugby rape trial: Set aside emotions, judge tells jury as she begins summing up 

However, as Jackson's lawyer, Brendan Kelly QC, told the jury in his final summing up: "He's not looking for special treatment. That's never been his pitch, ever ... Don't fall into 'is he trying to play the rugby card?' He's not. The fact he plays for Ireland - so what?"

He said his client's life had been blighted by the rape allegation for almost two years. "Twenty months of his life have been blighted by evidence of this poor quality. Each time evidence was checked, each time evidence came from a video, or another source, the complainant's account fell," he said.

Mr Kelly reminded the jury of CCTV footage of Jackson standing outside Ollie's nightclub in central Belfast, where he met the complainant. It showed him standing outside the club with his hands in his pocket.

"The person you see there is half-an-hour later turned into a marauding rapist," he added.

He described the evidence of a woman who walked into the room at a time when the complainant alleged she was raped by Jackson and Olding as "absolutely vital" and "extraordinary" in a trial of this sort.

She had told the court that the complainant had not seemed distressed at the time.

Mr Kelly added: "When people commit crime, we all know this, it's common sense, they tend to hide, they try and conceal what they are doing. What did these two violent rapists do when a witness walked in rumbling what they were doing? They invite her to join."

He said there was nothing to suggest that the female witness and two other women in the house that night would have done anything other than help the alleged victim if they witnessed a rape.

Frank O'Donoghue QC, defending Olding, said his client had told police and the court the truth "warts and all".

His defence was that the oral sex with the young woman was consensual.

He argued that the evidence - the repeated interruptions of the sex act, first for the woman to take off a top, then asking for a condom, then hiding her face in case she was being filmed when the other woman walked into the room - was compelling evidence of consent.

He also asked the jury: "Why would she not say no? Did she scream? Why didn't she scream? There were three middle-class girls downstairs, they weren't going to tolerate a rape. Why didn't she scream the house down?"

Mr O'Donoghue branded graphic WhatsApp messages presented in evidence during the trial a s a "titillating side show". He said Olding had acted "the big lad, bragging to his mates on social media".

The lawyer admitted the messages were unattractive, the language was improper and Olding was suitably ashamed.

He added: "But they are nowhere near an acknowledgement anything he was involved in was not consensual. Is he really the sort of person who would brag of raping a girl? The suggestion is preposterous."

He described the allegation against Olding as "belated" and "unreliable".

The complainant had told a doctor that she had been vaginally raped by two men, but later told police one of them had orally raped her.

He accused the woman of making false allegations in order to be believed.

"She deliberately concealed the fact that she performed oral sex on a male, so that she would not be orally forensically examined at the Rowan (sex complaints clinic), where she made her ludicrous claim."

And he warned the jury: "A person is only to be deprived of their liberty if it is proved they have committed a crime.

"Proof is not as a result of a whim, or an impression, a gut feeling, or even an instinct, but as a result of listening to the evidence.

"If on the evidence you cannot be sure, then it is your duty to acquit."

Mr O'Donoghue said there was no case against his client.

"There was no force used, there was consent on both sides at that time. Perhaps a matter of regret now to all parties. But such is life."

Defence counsel for the third defendant, Blane McIlroy, said his client had not - as suggested by prosecuting counsel - got his lines wrong in a conspiracy concocted with his friends.

Arthur Harvey QC said it was the prosecution's case that his client, while charged with exposure - "a serious crime" - had chosen to elevate his part and open himself to the "destructive consequences" of a rape charge. McIlroy had told the court that the complainant had performed oral sex on him.

Mr Harvey asked the jury: "What rational, reasonable, sensible, intelligent individual would present themselves in a police station to give an account before he knew what any of the allegations were specifically against him?

"To incriminate himself to a potentially much more serious charge, quite simply, it does not bear examination."

The lawyer described the case as a "tragedy for everyone involved" and called the police investigation "a disgrace".

He added: "The first proper examination of the evidence has been in this court. That is a disgrace."

He argued that a momentum had grown once the woman had complained to her friends.

"Momentum switches from her to her friends and momentum builds for her to report this to the police. The simple thing in life is that lies don't start off as a malicious intent to cause real damage to others. But lies build on lies," he said.

"The sense that you are about to be shamed on a (social media) network your friends access, then your first reaction is, how you deal with that shame. How do I save face? That's the reaction she had."

Mr Harvey reminded the jury of a question posed earlier by the prosecution: what did the woman gain from making her allegations?

His answer was short and blunt: "Her reputation."

He contended that the complainant didn't want to advance a narrative of a young girl who had too much to drink, who had gone along with people she had never met before to a house party and a short time later ended up in bed with the owner of the property.

"This is not the narrative she thinks is acceptable to you. In other words, the truth has to be reformulated in a way she believed with reinforce her version of what happened."

It was also revealed that McIlroy had not been able to complete the final semester at university in America after the allegation was levelled against him.

The last defence counsel to address the jury was Gavan Duffy QC, representing Harrison.

The jury has already heard that Harrison, who took the complainant home in a taxi in the early hours of Tuesday, June 28, 2016, following an afterparty in Jackson's house, was initially treated as a witness in the case.

He had given police a statement two days after the alleged rape, but in October he was asked to come to Musgrave Street police station in Belfast and was arrested.

Mr Duffy said his client "had absolutely no inkling" that he was about to be arrested and charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

He urged the jury to consider Harrison's character: "Rory Harrison is a genuinely caring person, he is a kind person, he is an honest person and he is a modest person."

Branding the woman's claims she was raped by Jackson and Olding as a "false allegation", Mr Duffy rejected the Crown's case that Harrison was part of a cover-up.

The barrister said: "Rory Harrison is not a weasel, Rory Harrison is not a criminal. Rory Harrison is a decent man and Rory Harrison should not be here. But he is."

Mr Duffy also asked the jury to consider what the complainant said about Harrison, both to police and while giving evidence in court.

In her evidence, the student, now 21, said she believed Harrison's actions in the early hours of June 28 were "quite genuine". She also told the court: "He was trying to console me, but I don't think he was aware what happened."

The lawyer said police never asked Harrison about a text send by the complainant to him, saying that what happened in the house was not consensual.

He pointed out Harrison was first interviewed by police two days after the event and on his birthday, when he was hungover.

He added that Harrison "answered every single question police asked him with not even the slightest hint of reluctance, reticence, or lack of co-operation".

Mr Duffy argued that there were no texts, or phone calls, between the four men which would back up this claim that they had concocted a story to tell to police.

He asked the jury whether it was plausible they met "in the busiest, small cafe on the Ormeau Road with two Ulster Rugby players to discuss how they were going to cover up a rape".

He added: "If you are going to cover up rape, go to someone's house, or speak on the phone. Don't go to a busy cafe on the Ormeau Road and have a conversation about it."

Saying that the case centred on a false allegation, Mr Duffy added: "This is someone who has done something they regret and, as a consequence of that, wheels have been put in motion which have been impossible to halt - and here we are."

Then it was the turn of the trial judge to address the jury.

Judge Patricia Smyth told them: "You have now heard all the evidence you need in order to reach a proper verdict in this case.

"You are the sole judges of the facts and it is for you to decide what evidence you accept and what you reject."

She cautioned them that emotion and prejudice should play no part in their deliberations and outlined what guilty beyond a reasonable doubt really means.

"If you are firmly convinced a defendant is guilty, they you must find him guilty. If, on the other hand, you think there is a real possibility he is not guilty, then you must give him the benefit of the doubt and find him not guilty.

"If you are not sure one way or the other, then you must find him not guilty. You must be sure of his guilt before you find him guilty."

Now, the fate of the four defendants lies in the hands of the eight men and three women of the jury (one member was dismissed early in the proceedings after taking ill).

It is a case which has gripped public attention over the entire eight weeks of the proceedings and the jury's verdicts will be very keenly anticipated.

The four rugby players who stand accused

Paddy Jackson (26), of Oakleigh Park, Belfast, is accused of raping a 19-year-old woman on June 28, 2016, at his home and also of sexual assault. He denies the charges.

Stuart Olding (24), of Ardenlee Street, Belfast, is also accused of raping the 19-year-old woman on the same date. He denies the charge.

Blane McIlroy (26), from Royal Lodge Road, Belfast, is accused of exposing himself on the same date. He denies the charge.

Rory Harrison (25), of Manse Road, Belfast, is accused of perverting the course of justice and of withholding information. He denies the charge.

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