Belfast Telegraph

Rugby rape trial verdict: The fateful night when lives were changed for ever

Nicola Anderson on a Belfast evening of revelry that sparked sensational case

When Paddy Jackson helped Ireland beat South Africa on June 11, 2016 sports writers marvelled at how the "joker" of Irish rugby had completed the transition to "leader".

"History will inform future generations that Ireland's out-half in arguably its greatest Test win ever was Paddy Jackson," wrote one, adding: "Wee Paddy Jackson, leader of men."

Precisely two weeks later he was back in his home city of Belfast, and though disappointed that Ireland had lost the series, was happy with his own performance - the "happiest man in Belfast", in fact, as he later told his trial. Jackson was ready to celebrate.

Along with Jackson, Stuart Olding was also celebrating his own rugby success - after being plagued by cruciate ligament injuries things were back on track. He had done well on the South African tour.

"I had managed to get two caps," he later told the court.

"I was in a good place."

In another part of Belfast, a pretty and intelligent 19-year-old school leaver had her own reasons for being on top of the world, having just completed her A-level repeat exams. She was in the happy position of being able to mull over a couple of offers to study medicine in September. Her life was just beginning.

These separate celebrations were to collide with catastrophic consequences, destroying all that had gone before for the young people involved and sending ripples out in to wider society, raising deep and searching questions about culture and attitudes that will continue long after the dust has settled on this trial.

On June 27, 2016 the young woman and friends had met up for "pre-drinks" at another friend's house.

She had consumed one-and-a-half "large" glasses of wine before they ordered two taxis, which took them straight to Ollies nightclub at the Merchant Hotel in Belfast's city centre.

They managed to blag their way into the VIP section, where the Northern Ireland football team also happened to be nursing a painful exit from the Euros after being knocked out by Wales in France the previous day.

Meanwhile, Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding and Jackson's brother Paul had met up at the house of their friend Blane McIlroy, who was home on a rare visit from the United States, at Royal Lodge Road in the city.

He was studying at Life University in Atlanta, Georgia, with one semester left to go.

Some 45 minutes later Rory Harrison arrived, just back from a family holiday to Majorca.

Spirits were high. The group watched a football match and had "a couple of beers" with Blane's father - who ordered pizza and chicken wings for them. They had "maybe six beers in total", McIlroy later told the police.

After that they went to the Cutters Wharf pub to watch England in the Euros.

They had missed the first five minutes of the game, McIlroy recalled, but arrived at 8.10pm at the latest.

After the game they moved outside to enjoy the pub's Laganside location and had more drinks - pints of Guinness and "one gin and tonic each", McIlroy said.

It was probably just before 11pm that they set off for Belfast city centre, ending up in Ollies.

Some girls had come over to talk to them, Rory Harrison told the police, recalling a conversation with one of them by the name of Dara Florence.

Some people were asking for selfies with Jackson and Olding "because they played with Ulster Rugby", he recalled.

As well as his sporting prowess, Jackson was also something of an internet celebrity, performing rap and creating what he described as "stupid videos" - but which had attracted more than a million views.

Despite his popularity, Jackson frankly admitted he did not come close to the celebrity status of the Northern Ireland footballers that night in Ollies.

CCTV footage from that night showed exuberant scenes as the crowd rollicked, hands in the air as they chanted "Will Grigg's on fire" in tribute to the player amongst them. Some people were taking their tops off.

Jackson and his friends had a few more drinks but "no one was so drunk that they didn't know what was happening around them", Harrison claimed to the police.

For Olding, this constituted a total of 23 drinks. He had consumed eight cans of Carlsberg, four pints of Guinness, two gin and tonics, five vodka lemonades and three shots. It sounded like a lot, he agreed with his own lawyer, but he claimed he was coherent and "knew his own whereabouts".

For the young woman and her own friends, their paths did not cross in the VIP section. She was oblivious to the presence of the rugby players and only knew about Will Grigg "because of the song", she told the court. She only knew Jackson's face because she had served him free Guinness when she worked in promotions at a bar some eight months before.

She consumed a total of three double vodkas and struck up a conversation with a doctor who tended to the Northern Ireland team.

The CCTV footage showed her dancing with friends - and she acknowledged she could be seen stumbling momentarily in the nightclub.

Brendan Kelly QC for Paddy Jackson made much of the fact that she had briefly placed her hand on the knee of footballer Kyle Lafferty and momentarily touched Will Grigg's arm, though the girl herself pointed out that she could not remember this, nor any other fleeting details from a night out.

Once the club was closing at around 2.15am she left, exiting to the side of the Merchant Hotel where people were congregated waiting for taxis.

She could not recall who she was chatting to but said she knew she got speaking to "those girls" - Dara Florence, Emily Docherty and Claire Matthews, who said they were going to an after-party.

It wasn't an unusual thing to end up back at a student's house or something like that, she explained to the court.

She thought Paddy Jackson was behind the group of girls but she didn't realise the party was at his house. She claimed he had talked to a taxi driver, saying: "Do you know who I am?"

In court Jackson's family had scoffed loudly at the thought that he would use a trick like that to bag a taxi. She got into the cab with Jackson and two other girls, while another taxi with the remainder of the group followed.

Back at the house, there were four males and four females including herself, she said.

She did not know Stuart Olding's name, nor did she speak to him or Blane McIlroy downstairs.

Rory Harrison was the main person she spoke to back at the house, she told the court.

She described the layout of the house - with a staircase immediately to the right, a hallway with the kitchen off to the left and at the back a living room. There were a set of French doors out to a small patio area.

"To be honest, I was under the illusion more people would be coming back," she said in court.

"I thought some of my friends might be coming back because of those three girls being mutual friends."

She wasn't drinking, though others were. There was only background music emanating from a set of speakers, which was plugged into a phone, and an Arctic Monkeys song came on and she danced a bit.

"But it was by no means a party," she said.

At one stage she and Paddy Jackson went upstairs and they began to kiss. It was completely consensual but instigated by Paddy Jackson, she said.

However, he attempted to undo her trousers and she told him she wasn't interested, so they went back downstairs. Asked if he had tried to take matters further, she shook her head emphatically, saying: "No."

The atmosphere had changed, she told the court. The other girls were "acting slutty" and sitting on Blane McIlroy's knee and she decided to leave, she told the court.

She had realised that she had left her clutch bag upstairs and went up to get it.

The next thing she remembered was Paddy Jackson being at the foot of the bed.

"After already telling him I didn't want to do anything further with him, he grabbed my trousers by the waistband," she said. "He undid them and pulled them down to my knees. In that moment you think you are going to kick and scream and fight, but it doesn't work that way.

"I just froze. I knew where this was going but... it just happened so quickly. The next thing I remember is, he pushed me down on the bed. Because I was wearing white trousers, they were quite tight so when he pulled them down, they caught on my knees. I couldn't actually move.

"After that, it just went so quickly. The next thing I remember is lying face down on the bed and he was having sex with me."

When asked by Mr Hedworth QC if Mr Jackson said anything, she answered: "No. I tried to push his hand away when he started. Verbally, I had already told him I didn't want things going any further. There was nothing about me physically that was telling him to keep going.

"I knew I didn't want this to happen, but he kept going."

The woman said Mr Olding then came into the bedroom. She said: "My heart sank. I knew what was going to happen. I looked Patrick Jackson straight in the eye and said: 'Please no, not him as well'. The next thing I remember is my trousers are off. Patrick Jackson was behind me having sex and Stuart Olding was forcing me to give him oral sex."

Jackson tried to force his entire hand up her and she was bleeding "all over the bed", she said. Medical examination subsequently revealed a 1cm deep tissue bleeding laceration on the vaginal wall.

The student said that while she was being sexually assaulted by the two rugby players, one of the girls who had come back to the house opened the bedroom door. She quickly turned her head away because she was afraid she was going to be filmed, as a lot of pictures had been taken downstairs.

The person who had opened the door was Dara Florence - who later recalled how she had gone upstairs with her friend Claire to look for Emily Docherty, who had been brought upstairs earlier by Stuart Olding because she was drunk and wanted to sleep. She heard noises coming up the stairs and later struggled to explain what she had heard.

Asked by police in her second statement if this had been a sexual moaning, she had said no. It was a male, aggressive moan, she said, but then in court she said it had been sex. She did not think it was distress.

She thought it might be Emily so she opened the door only to witness what she thought was a threesome. Jackson asked her if she wanted to stay but she said no and shut the door.

It was "100%" that she saw Jackson having penetrative sex with the young woman, she told the court. However, Jackson denied having sexual intercourse and claimed he had received consensual oral sex.

Olding also claimed he had received consensual oral sex and that he ejaculated onto his stomach and then went into the bathroom to wipe himself before going to sleep in an adjoining room on a couch beside the sleeping Emily.

After Dara Florence had left the bedroom, the door had opened again some time later and Blane McIlroy walked in, naked and with his penis in hand. He was masturbating, the young woman said.

"It was at that point that my fight instinct kicked in. There was not a chance I was letting that happen again," she told the court.

"You f***ed the other guys, why won't you f*** me?" McIlroy asked her, she claimed.

She grabbed her clothes and as she left, screamed: "How many times does it take for a girl to say no for it to sink in?"

In his evidence, McIlroy denied this had happened and claimed he had also received oral sex. He also claimed the girl had earlier tried to kiss him downstairs but that he had been interested in Dara Florence.

She ran downstairs and out of the house - but realised she had left her phone in the room and went back to grab it before running out again. She said Mr Harrison then ran after her and comforted her. She said she was a "complete mess" and was crying. Mr Harrison phoned a taxi from a petrol station beside Jackson's house.

The taxi driver Stephen Fisher told the court that he had instantly known why the police had contacted him because he remembered how upset the young woman had been. Harrison had a 'coded' phonecall during the journey in which he had said "she's not good" and that he was taking her home.

Just over four hours later the girl was texting close friends to say it had been the worst night ever - she had been raped by "Ulster Rugby scum", she claimed.

She did not want to go to the police because she feared she would not be believed. The lads would have a story about her being a "silly little girl" who had done something she had now regretted, she said.

Around about the same time, at 9.13am, WhatsApp messages were exchanged between Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding - but the contents were 'not available'.

At 10.10am a friend of Mr Olding's had texted him, asking: "How was she?"

A series of WhatsApp messages on the 'Jacome' friends group later that morning discussed the night. Sandwiched between the revelations of a "spit roast" and the description of it being "like a merry-go-round at a carnival", had been texts simultaneously exchanged between the alleged victim and her friend.

At 12.15pm the girl texted Harrison telling him that what happened had "not been consensual" and he responded: "Jesus". He told the court he had not believed her claim.

Belfast Telegraph

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