Belfast Telegraph

Rugby rape trial: Jurors urged to ignore reports and social media as they head off to deliberate

By Ashleigh McDonald

The judge presiding over the 'rugby rape' trial in Belfast has thanked the jury for their patience, and urged them not to read any reports - either in mainstream or social media - saying this "will not assist you to reach a verdict based on the evidence."

Urging the eight men and three women to put aside any assumptions they may have regarding sexual offences, Judge Patricia Smyth told them: "You have now heard all the evidence you need in order to reach a proper verdict in this case."

As the trial drew to the conclusion of its eight week at Belfast Crown Court, Judge Smyth told a jury that "emotion and prejudice" should play no part in how they reach their verdicts.

Before sending the jury home for the weekend, Judge Smyth began her charge by telling them "it is my function to explain to you what the law is."

The Judge asked the members to come to "common sense conclusions" and warned them "do not speculate on evidence that mightn't have been heard, or witnesses that mightn't have been called."

Pointing out allegations of a sexual nature "can arouse a great deal of emotion", Judge Smyth urged the jury to "guard against prejudice or sympathy" and instead "judge this case on the evidence you have heard, and nothing else."

The Judge said that whilst they may have an opinion about someone who was raped, or who makes an allegation of rape, may behave, she said it was "impossible to predict how a person will react in the following days."

Likewise, she said it would also be impossible to determine how someone who is being raped reacts to what is happening, commenting "Some people resist, some may freeze, others do not resist because of the circumstances."

The jury also heard Judge Smyth tell them "signs of distress do not confirm truth" and asked them to consider whether the 21-year old complainant's evidence was the truth, adding a person's demeanour or behaviour in court or with police "is not necessarily the key to the truth."

Judge Smyth also addressed the text and WhatsApp messages, and said: "You may think some of the texts were offensive, or crude, or even derogatory. It is important that you understand that even if a man holds a derogatory attitude of woman, that is not equivalent to the intention of having non-consensual sex."

In addition, the Judge asked the jury to consider words, phrases and emoji symbols used in texts messages, and in what context they were sent, adding "this applies to all of the young people involved in this case, including (the complainant) and her friends."

Asking the jury to set aside any views they may have on "young people who drink to excess" or sexual offences, Judge Smyth said: "The morals of any person involved in this trial are completely irrelevant." She also asked them to set aside any views of behaviour they may consider "distasteful", adding: "Don't jump to conclusions that criminal offences have been committed by any of the defendants."

The Judge also told the jury: "If you are firmly convinced a defendant is guilty, they you must find him guilty.

"If on the other hand you think there is a real possibility he is not guilty, they you must given him the benefit of the doubt and find him not guilty. If you are not sure one way or the other, then you must find him not guilty. You must be sure of his guilt to before you find him guilty."

As she went through all six charges, Judge Smyth said when it came to rape and the other sexual offences, the issue was one of consent.

Paddy Jackson (26) from Oakleigh Park and his 25-year old Ireland and Ulster Rugby teammate Stuart Olding, from Ardenlee Street, have both been charged with raping a woman in the early hours of June 28, 2016, while Jackson faces a further charge of sexual assault.

Blane McIlroy (26), from Royal Lodge Road, has been charged with exposure, while 25-year old Rory Harrison has been charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

All four defendants have denied all the charges levelled against them, and all four will discover next week whether or not they will be found guilty or not guilty of the charges.

The trial will enter its ninth week on Monday, when Judge Smyth will continue her charge. When this is completed, the jury will then be sent out to start their deliberations.

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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