Belfast Telegraph

Fair legal process faced severe pressure in case enveloped by rumour and speculation

Retweets: Naomi Long
Retweets: Naomi Long

By Darwin Templeton

The trial of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding unfolded against a frenzy of social media rumour and speculation.

Lawyers voiced concern that the controversy raging online could ultimately prevent the defendants receiving a fair trial.

It emerged that at one point a defence lawyer had asked Judge Patricia Smyth to stop the case over a tweet sent by Alliance leader Naomi Long.

Mrs Long criticised a remark made by defence barrister Frank O'Donoghue QC in his closing speech, when he referred to "middle class girls" who were downstairs at the time of the incident in Mr Jackson's house.

Applying for the jury to be discharged, Mr O'Donoghue described the tweet as "the straw that has broken the camel's back in this case".

He told the court that the Alliance leader had more than 29,000 followers on Twitter, and that her comment had received 277 'likes' and was retweeted 36 times. Mr O'Donoghue said her post had the capacity to reflect badly on his client and created a substantial risk of prejudicing or impeding proceedings if it was related to the jury.

"I do not know if her comments have been seen or relayed to any member of the jury in any way," he said.

Turning down the application, the judge said: "It is recognised that jurors are capable of following instructions and I have no reason to think they have not followed every instruction, nor do I have any reason to believe they have any knowledge of the tweet.

"I am not satisfied that there is a real risk of prejudice to this jury and I refuse the application."

The Alliance Party defended Mrs Long, saying: "We are always conscious of our responsibilities when making any comment related to live court proceedings and exercise great care to avoid any remarks which could be construed as prejudicial."

Earlier, Ireland rugby captain Rory Best faced heavy criticism on social media when he attended the trial.

Judge Smyth was forced to addressed the jury explaining Mr Best's appearance at the court.

She told them: "You may have been aware of Press coverage or coverage of some nature about the appearance of Mr Rory Best, who I understand is the captain of the Irish rugby team.

"I want to make it absolutely clear to you and clear to the public, the only reason Mr Rory Best was in this court last week was because he was directed to be here by senior counsel.

"That's the only reason he was here, and as a jury you should know that."

After the case concluded it also emerged that the Attorney General John Larkin was investigating comments made online by a member of the jury.

The remarks were posted just hours after the jury returned their unanimous not guilty verdicts and appeared on a blogging website under a story about the case.

By law, jurors are not permitted to disclose details of their deliberations in any trial.

The Attorney General was asked by the Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan to investigate whether the comments represent a breach of contempt of court laws.

The remarks allegedly made by the juror - which were reported by the Irish Times - appeared on a blogging website under a story about the verdict.

Belfast Telegraph


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