Belfast Telegraph

Rugby rape trial verdict: Jackson and Olding go free after verdicts take less than four hours to reach

By Cate McCurry

Ulster and Ireland rugby stars Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding walked free from court yesterday after being dramatically cleared of raping a student at a house party.

After a trial that spanned nine weeks, the jury returned their unanimous verdicts on all charges having deliberated for three hours and 45 minutes.

Mr Jackson (26), from Oakleigh Park in Belfast, was also found not guilty of sexually assaulting the then 19-year-old woman at his home in June 2016.

Speaking afterwards, senior investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Zoe McKee said the case had “no winners”.

“We do not want the decision in today’s verdict to deter victims from coming forward. And I think it’s very, very important.

“There are no winners here. This case was unprecedented. It was a case that has never been heard before, the complexity, the volume, the scale... so I would encourage everybody who wants to make a report to police to come forward.”

Mr Jackson thanked the judge and jury for giving him a fair trial outside the court. His solicitor Joe McVeigh said he was leaving the court as he had entered it — “an innocent man”.

In a statement read by his solicitor, Mr Olding (25) expressed regret about the events of the night in question, even though he had not committed any criminal offence. Both men stated a desire to get back playing rugby for Ireland and Ulster as soon as possible.

They were cleared alongside Blane McIlroy (26), from Royal Lodge Road in Belfast, who was acquitted of exposure, and Rory Harrison (25) of Manse Road in the city, who was cleared of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

It followed a 42-day trial at Belfast Crown Court — one of the longest ever heard in the city — which generated an unprecedented level of attention across Ireland and beyond.

The jury of eight men and three women returned unanimous verdicts on all charges against the men. Families of all four accused listened intently from the public gallery.

The case, which opened on January 30, heard evidence from 30 witnesses, including two doctors, 10 police officers, a forensic scientist and a taxi driver. After they were cleared, Mr Jackson, Mr McIlroy and Mr Harrison left the dock first, followed a short time later by Mr Olding after the court was told that no evidence was offered by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) on a charge of vaginal rape against him.

Judge Patricia Smyth directed the jury to find him not guilty.

Stuart Olding listens as his solicitor Paul Dougan reads a statement
Stuart Olding listens as his solicitor Paul Dougan reads a statement
Paddy Jackson makes a statement outside court in Belfast yesterday
Rory Harrison
Blane McIlroy
PSNI Detective Chief Supt Paula Hilman (left) and Detective Chief Inspector Zoe McKee yesterday
Decision: Marianne O’Kane
Paddy Jackson walks free from court yesterday with his mother and family by his side

She told Mr Olding that he was “free to leave the dock”.

Thanking the jurors, Ms Smyth said they would be exempt from jury service for life. She said: “This has probably been the most difficult trial that any jury in Northern Ireland has ever been asked to adjudicate on.”

There were emotional scenes outside court No 12 as friends and family gathered to hug the four men when they left the body of the court for the final time.

It was the defence case that the young woman made a false allegation about the night because she regretted being involved in a sexual act with a group of men. The prosecution, however, claimed that Mr Jackson raped her as she was forced to perform oral sex on Mr Olding.

It was also the prosecution case that Mr McIlroy walked in to Mr Jackson’s bedroom, naked while holding his penis.

Mr Harrison was accused of trying to cover up for his friends by withholding information and perverting the course of justice.

All four men had appeared in the witness box to give evidence about what they could recall happening on June 28, 2016. And the jury unanimously cleared all four of each charge they faced.

Speaking outside court, Mr Jackson addressed the crowd of around several hundred people made up of media and members of the public. He said: “I just want to thank the judge and the jury for giving me a fair trial, my parents for being here every day as well as my brothers and sister.”

Joe McVeigh, Mr Jackson’s solicitor, hit out at the PSNI investigation and said it was his client’s status as a famous sportsman that led to his prosecution.

He also slammed the “vile commentary” about the trial on Twitter that went “well beyond fair comment”. He said that it “polluted this sphere of public discourse and raised real concern about the integrity of the trial process” and thanked Judge Patricia Smyth for her handling of the trial “in the face of an onslaught of toxic content”

Mr McIlroy and Mr Harrison left the Belfast court without speaking to the media.

A short time later, Mr Olding’s solicitor Paul Dougan read a statement on his client’s behalf. He said that Mr Olding was in a “heightened state of emotion” and it would not be appropriate for him to answer questions at this time.

He said: “I want to acknowledge that the complainant came to court and gave evidence about her perception of those events. I am sorry for the hurt that was caused to the complainant. It was never my intention to cause any upset to anyone on that night.”

The PPS later defended its decision to take the matter to court.

Marianne O’Kane, PPS Assistant Director and Head of the PPS’s Serious Crime Unit which handles all sexual offences, said: “The evidence received in this case was subjected to a very thorough and careful examination by a team of experienced lawyers including senior counsel, before we concluded that the test for prosecution was met, in line with our code for prosecutors.

“This meant that there was both sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction and it was in the public interest to prosecute.”

The PSNI said they accepted the court’s outcome and paid tribute to the complainant.

In a statement Nexus, a charity that supports survivors of rape and sexual abuse, said: “Nexus NI respects the verdict of the jury in this trial which has brought to light the complex sexually violent crime and consent in particular. Talking about sexual violence is not easy.

“This difficult case has increased dialogue around sexual violence and what we need to ensure now is that these conversations continue and that the necessary support is provided to victims.”

In a joint statement the Irish Rugby Football Union and Ulster Rugby said officials would now “review the matter, in line with existing procedures for all contracted players”.

Belfast Telegraph

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