Belfast Telegraph

Police dispute 'apparent investigative bias' claim

By Victoria Leonard

The PSNI has rejected claims that their investigation into the rugby rape trial was flawed, stating it was carried out "thoroughly and robustly".

At a press conference yesterday, police said the case had been carried out "fairly" and revealed that an extra 20 alleged rapes had been reported this January and February compared with the previous year.

They also revealed that they would investigate the naming of the complainant on social media sites during the trial, which breached her right to anonymity.

Head of the Public Protection Branch, Detective Chief Superintendent Paula Hilman, said: "This has been a difficult time for all those involved in this trial.

"We have faith and trust in the legal system and respect the verdict. I would like to pay tribute to the young woman who had the resolve and confidence to come forward and put her faith in police and the criminal justice process."

Responding to comments made by Paddy Jackson's solicitor Joe McVeigh outside court that there had been "very apparent investigative bias", DCS Hilman said she was "satisfied that this was a very thorough investigation carried out with professionalism and integrity".

She also denied Mr McVeigh's claims that his client was prosecuted because he was a "famous sportsman."

"Our role as a police service is to keep people safe, to investigate offences," DCS Hilman continued.

"Anybody, regardless of status or background, can be a victim. Status or background for us has no influence on the investigation.

"We gather the evidence, and with that evidence we present that to the Public Prosecution Service.

"They are independent in decision making, so the ultimate decision for reaching the prosecution threshold was with the Public Prosecution Service."

Detective Chief Inspector Zoe McKee of the Rape Crime Unit said the woman was "upset and disappointed at the outcome," but had "no regrets" about her report to police.

DCI McKee said the PSNI didn't want the verdict to deter others from coming forward.

"I would encourage everybody who wishes to make a report to police to come forward in the knowledge that you will be treated sensitively and with respect, and your allegation in court will be taken very seriously," she added.

"It was eight days the complainant spent in the box and that must have been a very, very difficult task for her. No two cases are alike, we had four defence teams doing the cross-examining in this case, so it would have protracted that experience.

"The judicial process is there, it is a good system that we do have and we have faith in it."

DCS Hilman added that there was "no room in society for tolerance of sexual crime", stating: "Anyone can be the victim of sexual crime regardless of age, background, status or gender.

"We understand how difficult it can be for someone to report a rape, but let me assure you today that if you choose to speak to police, you will be listened to, respected, treated sensitively, have your report thoroughly investigated, and you will be signposted to support services such as Nexus and Victim Support among others."

DCS Hillman said police would continue working hard to improve outcomes for sexual offences and added: "Our message is clear, please continue to report."

Belfast Telegraph

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