Belfast Telegraph

Rugby rape trial: Authorities 'let down' Stuart Olding by failing to query evidence, jury told

by claire o'Boyle

A RUGBY player at the centre of a high profile rape case has been "let down" by the authorities, a court heard yesterday.

Frank O'Donoghue QC said police and prosecution lawyers had failed to examine evidence against Ulster star Stuart Olding in a "meaningful or proper" way.

Former Belfast Royal Academy student Olding, the youngest of three sons, is accused of forcing a woman to perform oral sex on him in his teammate Paddy Jackson's house on June 2016. He denies the charge.

Mr O'Donoghue said that "no rape" had taken place involving his client and that "there was consent".

Closing his case for 25-year-old Olding in the eighth week of the trial, Mr O'Donoghue also said the complaint at the heart of the case had been "devoid of detail" - and that inconsistencies in the alleged victim's account were not down to "trauma" but "wild exaggeration" and "downright false allegation".

He said the woman's evidence was of "hopeless quality", adding that "the investigation, testing and evaluation of this complaint was at best poor - at worst virtually non-existent".

Olding, he said, had told the truth throughout, "warts and all".

Jackson (26) denies raping the same woman, as well as a further charge of sexual assault.

Addressing the jury of eight men and three women for around two hours, Mr O'Donoghue reminded the court of evidence they had heard through the course of the trial and said evidence provided by the sportsman from his initial police interview to giving his evidence before the jury had been supported throughout.

Mr O'Donoghue listed to the court what he said was "objective evidence of consent", which the police and prosecution were aware of during the course of their investigations - including the assertion the woman performed oral sex on Olding for five minutes, before he ejaculated. "Does that not suggest consent?" said Mr O'Donoghue?

He said repeated interruptions of oral sex and then resuming of it - to ask for condoms, to take her top off, to hide her face in case of being filmed, "and after that, ejaculation happens - does that not form compelling evidence of consent?"

"When the police got layer upon layer of evidence from Mr Olding that indicated consent, they should have reinterviewed the complainant," he said.

The barrister listed more than a dozen questions he said officers, and later prosecution lawyers, should have put to the complainant, "no matter how uncomfortable" it might have been for her.

"Some questions might spring to mind," he said.

"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?

"Where were her hands - were they on his penis? How long did oral sex go on for?

"Did she go up and down the shaft of his penis, and how did that happen if she was being forced downwards?

"Did oral sex stop because she stopped it or because Stuart Olding wanted it to stop? What did Stuart Olding do when the oral sex stopped?"

Mr O'Donoghue also addressed the nature of a number of WhatsApp messages that have been presented in evidence throughout the course of the trial, branding them a "titillating sideshow" without "evidential value".

He said Olding had "acted the big lad, bragging to his mates on social media", adding the sportsman was "not proud" of the messages, but that they were on "what he thought to be the privacy of his own phone" and that they had "rebounded and been used against him".

"The social media texts are only bragging," said Mr O'Donoghue. "They are unattractive. The language was improper and he is suitably ashamed.

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

The barrister rejected a prosecution "theory" Olding was part of a cover-up conspiracy in the aftermath of the incident.

He also pointed out: "It's hardly to his benefit to inform police he had 20 alcoholic drinks" prior to events in the bedroom, or that he hadn't spoken to the complainant before engaging in a sex act with her.

Mr O'Donoghue said that during interview and his evidence in court, Olding "didn't contradict himself", but rather told the truth, "warts and all".

Mr O'Donoghue told the jury about Olding's experience with the PSNI on June 30, 2016.

He reminded the court that before contacting his client, the police had gone straight to his bosses at Ravenhill, and it was through Ulster team manager Bryn Cunningham that Olding was alerted to any allegation against him.

He said that while officers had been reluctant to "put any pressure" on the complainant during her interviews, "Stuart Olding's encounter with the police was quite the reverse".

He told the jury how Olding was first arrested and put into a holding cell, before he underwent forensic examination - "medically intrusive" procedures - including a buccal swab of his mouth, scrapings from his fingernails as well as three swabs of his penis.

He said while you "might think something of the shock" of that experience, his client went on to give a full account to officers in his police interviews.

Mr O'Donoghue said the complainant's "evidence has been shown to be completely unreliable". He described her claim of oral rape against Olding as "belated" and "unreliable" and said while she told Dr Lavery at the Rowan Clinic she had been vaginally raped by two men, she later gave police a different account.

Mr O'Donoghue told the court Olding's rugby career had been damaged by the allegations.

He also said his client had "asked no favours" and "pulled no strings".

"He has never shied away from telling anyone who would listen what happened."

The barrister advised the jury: "(The woman) made false allegations in order to be believed. She deliberately concealed the fact that she performed oral sex on a male, so that she wouldn't be orally forensically examined at the Rowan, where she made her ludicrous claim. You have to second guess everything in this case before you rely on it."

Warning the jury of the gravity of their task, Mr O'Donoghue said: "It does not come remotely near the required standard to render you sure that Stuart Olding orally raped the complainant in June 2016.

"A person is only to be deprived of their liberty if it is proved to the jury that 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. We, the court, the jury, must never be party to any miscarriage of justice. We must avoid that at all costs."

Mr O'Donoghue said his client was "innocent of this charge" and concluded: "The reality is there was no rape by Stuart Olding.

"There was no case.

"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."

Blane McIlory (26), from Royal Lodge Road in Belfast, denies exposure, while Rory Harrison (25), from Manse Road, Belfast, denies perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

The trial continues.

Belfast Telegraph

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