A woman is entitled to say no, rugby rape trial jury told
The judge in the high profile rape case against Ulster and Ireland rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding yesterday reminded the jury that women "have the right to say 'no'" when it comes to sex.
In the second day of her summing up, Judge Patricia Smyth told the jury: "A woman is entitled to say 'no' and decide what sexual activity she wants, how far she is prepared to go, what she does not want to do."
Ulster and Ireland teammates Jackson (26) and Olding (24) deny raping the same woman at a house party in June 2016. Jackson denies a further charge of sexual assault.
Their friend Blane McIlroy (26) denies one count of exposure, while a fourth man, Rory Harrison (25), denies perverting the course of justice and withholding information.
As the high profile trial entered its ninth week and the 40th day in Courtroom 12 at Belfast Crown Court, Judge Smyth told the jury not to let any "perceived failures" in the police investigation distract them from their task.
In particular she mentioned the failure by officers to collect CCTV footage from outside Ollie's nightclub in the city centre, where the four defendants and the complainant had been on June 27, 2016 before returning to Jackson's south Belfast home for a party, as well as a delay in organising a follow-up interview with the alleged victim once her complaint had been made.
Judge Smyth said: "Your task is not to sit in judgment on the competency of the police or to punish them for perceived failures, but to assess the evidence that has been put before you.
"Your only task is to decide on the basis of the evidence you have heard whether the prosecution has made you sure of the defendants' guilt. Do not let yourselves be distracted from that task."
Judge Smyth told the jury if, having "considered these matters carefully" they felt any defendant may have been disadvantaged, they should "take that into account in their favour".
The judge opened her address by reminding the panel of eight men and three women that at the heart of the case were the complainant's allegations that she had been raped and sexually assaulted by Jackson and that Olding had forced her to perform oral sex on him.
The jury heard again how the woman said she had been "frozen with fear".
The judge also reminded the jury of the woman's complaint against McIlroy and her claim that he had come into the bedroom at Jackson's home in the early hours of June 28, 2016 naked with his penis in his hand.
She also recounted the prosecution case against Harrison and their claim he had covered up what had happened in the days and weeks after the incident in order to "protect his friends".
The judge told the court the defendants denied the allegation and that Jackson said he "at no point" had vaginal sex with the complainant.
She told the jury the defence case was that the woman had been "motivated to make false allegations because she regretted getting involved in group sex and feared she may have been filmed engaging in these acts".
Judge Smyth also drew the jury's attention to the amount of alcohol consumed by each of the four men, as well as the complainant, in the hours before the alleged attack, and said "people do go out at night and get drunk".
She added that just because the woman - who was aged 19 at the time - was drunk, "it would be wrong to leap to the conclusion she must have been looking for, or was willing to have, sex".
Turning to the difficulty different parties had experienced recalling precise details of the night through the course of the investigation and the trial, Judge Smyth told the jury: "You are entitled to consider whether their lapses of memory are genuine or simply a convenient excuse to avoid having to explain their behaviour to you."
She also addressed inconsistencies in the complainant's evidence, and noted different accounts she disclosed in the hours after the incident to her friends, experts at the Brook Clinic, the Rowan Sexual Assault Referral Centre and the police, and said inconsistencies did not mean her account was not true. "When you come to consider whether or not her account is true, you must avoid making an assumption that because she said something to someone else, her evidence to you is untrue," said Judge Smyth.
"The mere fact she has not been consistent in the account she has given does not necessarily mean that her evidence is not true."
The judge said inconsistencies were not uncommon in cases such as this, adding different people reacted in different ways when recalling such an experience. She added: "After such an event, some people may go over and over it in their minds and their memory may be clear, whilst other people may try to avoid thinking about it."
She added inconsistencies could also be part of a "manufactured account" that is "difficult to remember consistently".
Urging the jury to "look at all the evidence" to determine what impact this may have had on the complainant's account, Judge Smyth said: "If you are sure her account is true, you are entitled to rely on it. If you think it's not true, you cannot rely on it."
The judge once again took the jury through the evidence provided to the court by Dara Florence, a woman she described as a "key witness" in the case.
The jury heard how Ms Florence had described hearing "sex" noises as she walked up the stairs at Jackson's home.
She had also said she did not believe she had walked in on a "rape", adding there were no signs the complainant was not consenting to the sexual activity she witnessed, but neither were there any signs she was consenting to what was happening.
The jury was reminded the witness did not believe the complainant had been in "distress" and that she had no concerns about the woman's safety when she left the room.
The judge reminded the jury of Ms Florence's assertion she was "100%" sure she had seen sex between the complainant and Jackson when she opened the door to his bedroom.
In the course of her charge to the jury - which began on Friday and is expected to conclude today - Judge Smyth told the jury: "It is for you to decide where the truth lies."
Concluding for the day, Judge Smyth said the trial was at "such a critical stage" they must "ignore anything in the press, ignore social media".
She told them: "Do not look at anything. Do not look at Twitter. Do not discuss this case with family and friends."
The jury is expected to be sent out to start their deliberations today.