Belfast Telegraph

Rugby rape trial: Key witness reinterviewed as 'detail was lacking', court told

Dara Florence outside court
Dara Florence outside court

By Claire O'Boyle

Detectives investigating rape allegations against two Ulster Rugby players were yesterday quizzed about the police statements of a witness.

Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding are charged with raping the same woman in June 2016. Mr Jackson (26) faces a second charge of sexual assault. Both deny the offences.

The court heard that Dara Florence, who walked into Mr Jackson's room in the course of the alleged attack, was interviewed by police twice, first on July 1, 2016 and then on September 8, 2016. Gavan Duffy QC, barrister for Rory Harrison, who is charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding evidence, said evidence given by Ms Florence in her initial police statement on July 1, 2016, suggested "her impression was that what she had seen was not a non-consensual act".

He said there was a "significant issue arising from the content of her first statement" because whether she had witnessed a "consensual or non-consensual act... (was) at the very heart of this investigation".

A second detective told the court his first interview with her lasted around 30 minutes.

The officer went on to explain how the statement was passed on to the senior investigating officer for review, and on July 14 he was asked to "go back to Dara and be a bit more thorough with certain aspects" of the interview.

The officer confirmed the questions asked on the second interview would have been "more specific" and that he was told of the "elements of the statement she needed to be more detailed on".

When asked by Mr Jackson's barrister Brendan Kelly QC if "concern" had been recorded about being rushed at the point the first interview was carried out, the officer said: "No."

The detective added: "There was nothing specific I felt was left out (of the first interview).

"There was just some detail lacking."

When pressed on the detail, the officer said: "The two aspects I remember (being asked for more on) were the noises she could hear and the exact positions she could see, including hand placement and things like that."

Mr Kelly asked: "Did you know when you went back to speak to Dara Florence that in fact Paddy Jackson had denied penetrating (the woman) with his penis?" The officer replied: "I did know that, yes."

The barrister continued: "Were your senior officers concerned about Dara Florence's evidence?"

He answered: "Not necessarily, not to my knowledge." Mr Kelly told the court that senior officers on the case had consulted the Public Prosecution Service on July 5, 2016, and that "one of the items discussed was Dara Florence".

The detective said: "I wasn't aware of that."

The case continues.

Third week of testimony in the case that has gripped NI

MONDAY: The woman at the centre of the case was accused of having a memory “clouded by drink or clouded by an unwillingness to acknowledge what happened”. Barrister for Blane McIlroy, Arthur Harvey QC, said the alleged victim had “simply had sex with a number of men after going to their home without an invitation”.

He suggested she “had regrets” about what had happened.

The woman, who was aged 19 at the time of the alleged attack, said: “That’s not how the situation played out. I refute everything you have said.”

TUESDAY: A witness who walked in on the alleged rape told Belfast Crown Court she thought she had seen a threesome. Dara Florence, who did not know the alleged victim, said she had gone into the room looking for a friend.

When asked about the noise she had heard from outside the room, she said: “It wasn’t distressed or anything like that. I didn’t know if it was sexual.”

The court heard that in her initial police statement Ms Florence said: “When I left the room I did not feel that I had just witnessed a rape.”  Barrister for Paddy Jackson, Brendan Kelly QC, asked: “Is that still correct?” She replied: “Yes.”

WEDNESDAY: Belfast Crown Court heard from the complainant’s friend, who told how the pair had gone in search of the rape crisis centre the morning after the alleged attack, only to find it had closed down. They went instead to a sexual health clinic, the witness said.

The court heard messages exchanged between the friends earlier that morning, in which the alleged victim said: “I’d report it if I knew they’d get done but they won’t”, adding, it would be “embarrassing” and lead to “unnecessary stress”.

The friend told the jury how she advised the complainant to get a “full screening” and “counselling” even if she didn’t want “anything official”.

THURSDAY: Continuing, the same witness told the court a message she sent to the complainant about how she would “blackmail” a man if she was ever raped was “clearly a joke”. The message, written for “humour purposes”, was sent less than two weeks before the alleged attack. The jury heard about messages sent to the complainant by another friend the morning after the incident, which read: “Pretend you don’t know they are from Ulster Rugby. Pretend you’d never seen them before.”

Explaining her messages, the witness said: “The meaning behind that was it doesn’t matter what someone’s profession is. Rape is rape.” She added: “I would never have told my friend to lie. Never.”

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