Belfast Telegraph

Paddy Jackson's life blighted by rape claim, Belfast court told

Jury told to 'dig in' and 'get hands dirty' with the evidence

by claire o'boyle

RUGBY star Paddy Jackson is not looking for any "special treatment" or "favours" in the high-profile rape trial against him, a court heard yesterday.

Closing his defence for the Ulster and Ireland player, Brendan Kelly QC told the jury at Belfast Crown Court that Jackson could not "ignore" the status of his job.

"He's not looking for special treatment. That's never been his pitch ever," he said.

"He's never given evidence in a court before," Mr Kelly added. "Don't hold that against him. Don't fall into 'is he trying to play the rugby card?' He's not. The fact he plays for Ireland - so what? Was he to ignore it?"

Jackson (26) is accused of rape and sexual assault. He denies the charges.

His teammate Stuart Olding (25) denies raping the same woman at Jackson's south Belfast home in June 2016.

Blane McIlroy (26) is charged with exposure, and denies the charge. Rory Harrison (25) denies perverting the course of justice and withholding evidence.

As the seventh week of the trial drew to a close, Mr Kelly told the court his client's life had been "blighted" by rape allegations for almost two years.

"The question is, does the quality of this evidence with its untruths and central inconsistencies, does it deserve a conviction of this gravity?" he said.

"Twenty months of his (Jackson's) 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."

Mr Kelly reminded the court of CCTV footage at Ollie's nightclub earlier on the night of the alleged attack, which showed Jackson standing with his hands in his pockets.

"The person you look at there is half an hour later turned into a marauding rapist," said Mr Kelly.

Referring to statements made by Crown prosecutor Toby Hedworth QC in his final speech, Mr Kelly told the court: "Bad old days of male entitlement? Oh, please. Be careful of that type of categorisation in this case. Don't be distracted by headlines that might not help you."

He later said: "We have got this headline of rugby player every day. Rugby rape. But you scratch the surface of this man, Paddy Jackson, you start to see a bit more. You get to see what he is," he said.

"I'm not painting him as a saint. You have got to look clearly at the evidence," he said.

Mr Kelly also branded part of the police investigation "slack" and "a shambles", questioning officers' adherence to procedure and warning members of the jury to "tread with absolute care" when considering the source of the complainant's evidence that witness Dara Florence had walked into the bedroom during the alleged attack.

Questioning consistencies in the woman's account of Ms Florence's part in the night, as well as when this was reported to police and how clearly officers recorded it, Mr Kelly said: "What possible inquiry can we now enjoy - is it that (the woman) told the police about the witness, or that it was in fact Dara Florence that told the police about the witness? That part of the inquiry is unrecorded, opaque - and absolutely vital to this case, and the notes are a shambles."

He went on to tell the court "mistakes are made" and "evidence can be tainted".

Speaking in greater detail about the account provided by Dara Florence, Mr Kelly described her evidence as "absolutely vital" and "extraordinary" in a trial of this sort.

Reminding the jury she told both the police and the court the complainant had not appeared "distressed" when she saw her in Jackson's bedroom in the early hours of June 28, 2016, Mr Kelly said this "articulate" young woman also said sexual noises she heard on the stairs stopped when she opened the door, and that Jackson had asked her to "join in".

Mr Kelly told how it was the Crown's case that the complainant was subjected to a violent rape by two men who held her against her will for more than an hour.

He said: "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."

Mr Kelly said there was nothing to suggest Ms Florence or her two friends at Jackson's house would have done anything other than help the alleged victim if they witnessed a rape.

Another aspect of the case addressed by Jackson's lawyer as he completed his 15-chapter closing submission, was the Crown's case against Blane McIlroy. Mr Kelly questioned why the complainant had described McIlroy during a meeting with police in December 2016 as the "nastiest" of the men involved in the incident.

"By her account, he (McIlroy) stood by the door with his hand near or on his penis," said Mr Kelly. "What had the other two done? Jackson, for about an hour had raped her from behind and the front.

"He had inserted his fist inside her and had kept her against her will to be joined by Olding who joins in too. How does it happen that McIlroy is nastier than those two? How can that be?"

The lawyer described the complainant's account as "extraordinary", adding the prosecution had offered "not one explanation for it".

Mr Kelly also challenged the Crown's case that McIlroy had "got his lines wrong" when he told police the complainant had performed oral sex on him.

"It is complete nonsense," said Mr Kelly.

He reminded the court McIlroy had told a friend in the States, prior to his arrest, that he had "Pumped a bird with Jacko, roasted her, then another on Tuesday night". The barrister said McIlroy wasn't "mistaken" in his account, adding "McIlroy is being used wrongly in some shape or form".

Mr Kelly questioned what the complainant told both friends and medics in the immediate aftermath of the alleged attack, asking why she hadn't told friends or a doctor who examined her that she had been orally raped, and that a woman walked in during the incident.

This, the barrister said, was part of her lie that she had been raped, when in fact she had engaged in group sex.

Mr Kelly said she was thinking, "If I talk about the witness or the oral, then I'm blown, I'm in trouble.

"They will not believe me."

He said she was worried if it ever got out on social media she would be "ruined".

Mr Kelly told the jury Jackson had not been obliged to take the stand but that he chose to do so.

"A defendant need play no part in a criminal trial. Some defendants choose to give evidence.

"In this case Mr Jackson and his co-defendants have all given evidence. No one has hidden. No one has tried to conceal.

"Everyone has got up, with their good character, and g iven their account," he said.

He told the jury to "dig in" to the evidence, "get your hands dirty," he said.

The trial is due to resume next Wednesday.

Belfast Telegraph

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