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Rugby rape trial: Set aside emotions, judge tells jury as she begins summing up

Warning: These reports contain details which some readers might find upsetting

By Claire O'Boyle

The jury in the high-profile trial of two Ulster rugby players must set aside their emotions, their sympathies and any preconceptions they have ever held about who might commit - or fall victim to - a rape, a judge said yesterday.

Beginning her closing speech in Courtroom 12 at Belfast Crown Court, Judge Patricia Smyth said the panel of eight men and three women must tap into the varied experiences of their lives and use common sense to decide if the four men in the dock were guilty or not of the charges levelled against them.

Paddy Jackson, who has been capped 25 times for Ireland, is accused of rape and sexual assault against a woman at his house in June 2016.

His Ulster and Ireland teammate Stuart Olding (25) is accused of raping the same woman.

Blane McIlroy (26) is charged with exposure, and a fourth man, Rory Harrison (25) is accused of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

All the men deny the charges against them.

Taking the jury through a comprehensive document explaining the legal technicalities linked to all six charges on the indictment, Judge Smyth said: "You are the sole judges of the facts and it is for you to decide what evidence you accept and what you reject."

She told the jury it was up to each of them to use their "own judgment as to the reliability of the witnesses" and to come to "common sense conclusions" using their "experience of life" when considering the evidence they had heard.

"An allegation of rape or sexual assault can arouse a great deal of emotion in all of us", said Judge Smyth, but added, while "wholly understandable", those emotions do not assist in deciding whether the prosecution had proven the defendants' guilt.

"Emotions and prejudice have no part to play in your deliberations," she said.

Likewise, the judge told the court there was no such thing as a "classic" reaction to rape, and warned the jurors against looking for "stereotypes" within the evidence.

"It would be understandable if some of you came to this trial with assumptions as to what constitutes a rape, what kind of person might be a rapist, or what a person who has been raped will do or say," she said. "It is important you leave behind all such assumptions. Experience tells the court there is no stereotype for a rape, a rapist, a victim of rape, or how someone will behave after a rape."

She said: "Some people resist, some may freeze, others do not resist because of the circumstances", adding "trauma" caused by such experiences can make it "impossible to predict" how people will react.

While some people may show "obvious signs of distress" in presenting their evidence while others will not, neither do signs of distress "confirm truth and accuracy", she said.

The judge also asked the jury to cast aside any strong feelings they may have about the behaviour of the people at the centre of the case on the night of June 27, 2016 and the early hours of the following day. "The morals of any person involved in this trial are completely irrelevant," she said.

"You must not be influenced by any view you have of that matter. You may have heard evidence of sexual behaviour you don't approve of, or find distasteful. If so, you must not jump to the conclusion a criminal offence has been committed."

Turning to the text and WhatsApp messages exchanged between the defendants and their friends in the hours and days after the alleged attack that have formed a central part of the case, Ms Smyth said jury members might find some of the terms used "offensive or crude, or even derogatory of women".

However, she said, "even if a man holds a derogatory opinion of women" that doesn't prove any "intention of having non-consensual sex". She also said messages of that sort were often sent "instantaneously" and "without any consideration", adding that as "ill-judged" as they might be, they can also be "unrepresentative of the character of the sender".

Addressing the large quantities of alcohol consumed in the hours leading up to the party at Jackson's Belfast home by the four defendants and the complainant, the judge said: "If you hold strong views about young people who drink to excess, you must set them aside."

As she went through all six charges, Judge Smyth said when it came to rape and the sexual assault charge, the issue was one of consent - which has a "particular legal meaning".

"A woman consents if she agrees by choice, and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice," said Ms Smyth.

She said when considering the issue the jury must "draw a distinction between consent and submission".

"Consent in some situations may be given enthusiastically, whereas in others it is given with reluctance, but nevertheless it is still consent," the judge said.

Where a woman is so overcome by fear she lacks any capacity to give consent or resist, the judge said, that woman does not consent but is "submitting" to what takes place.

Also on the issue of consent, the judge told the panel that when considering their verdicts for Jackson and Olding - the only defendants whose charges are dependent on consent - they must take "no account" of alcohol consumed on the night, and said they must approach the question by considering what the men would have believed if they had been sober.

Judge Smyth also took the jury through the legal requirements linked to the charges against McIlroy and Harrison.

As she has a number of times through the course of the trial - which is due to enter its 40th day on Monday - the judge warned the jury to avoid social media, as well as reports in the press about the case.

"What matters is the evidence you have heard. You are the only people who are going to understand what the law is you must take into account."

She also told the jury: "If you are firmly convinced a defendant is guilty, then you must find him guilty. If, on the other hand, you think there is a real possibility he is not guilty, then you must give 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 before you find him guilty."

The trial will enter its ninth week on Monday, when Judge Smyth will continue her summing up.

When this is completed, the jury will be sent out to start their deliberations.

Belfast Telegraph

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