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In a case filled with tension and fraught with difficulties, it wasn’t always clear who was on trial


Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

Many times we wondered who exactly had been put on trial here. The young woman, or the four young men in the dock.

For eight long days in the witness box, the 21-year-old endured a gruelling ordeal as a battalion of four highly experienced barristers for the accused each took their turn to question her forensically.

They pored over CCTV of her dancing in a nightclub as if it held some secret code as to what had happened later that night.

Even the application of her fake tan that night was pondered in open court.

Merely a witness in her own rape trial, she was not entitled to her own legal representation and had to rely solely on the Crown.

Apart from her testimony, nobody spoke for her, and once the eight days were over, she was an invisible character in the narrative, a reference point for others. Nor was she entitled to any witnesses who might speak to her good character, unlike the defendants.

Her underwear was produced in court for the inspection by judge and jury.

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Six men walked out of courtroom 12 as the anatomy of the female body, in general, was discussed in what seemed like the most peculiar degree of prudishness amongst unconnected members of the public who had chosen to attend a rape trial.

A heavy blue curtain had been drawn around the stand so that the young woman did not have to lay eyes on the defendants, though her face emerged on screen in the courtroom.

There was nothing unusual about this set-up, Judge Patricia Smyth later pointed out to the jury.

Here, rape trials are not held 'in camera' and so anyone can walk in off the street to observe her give evidence.

"Everyone in Belfast knows who she is," claimed an onlooker confidently. In a small city like Belfast, privacy is hard to maintain.

The complainant was fresh-faced, makeup-free and pretty, her long, light brown hair pulled into a pony tail from which strands untidily escaped, and she wore tailored Ralph Lauren shirts for her appearances. She spoke in a low voice with a middle-class Belfast accent as she stood, taking the oath, Bible in hand.

As she told her version of events that night, led through her evidence by Toby Hedworth for the prosecution, she broke down in tears, her hand before her face as she spoke.

Through it all, she remained strong and articulate, despite her emotion, insistent that she was telling the truth about what happened that night.

"I was handled like a piece of meat," she told the court.

Put to her by Brendan Kelly QC, for Paddy Jackson, that "in an intoxicated and excited state ... you that night engaged of your own choice in sexual activity," she said, "I completely reject that", adding: "Mr Kelly, I was raped. I don't think I can make myself more clear."

Nevertheless, there were certainly inconsistencies in her narrative. Frank O'Donoghue QC, in cross-examining the police officer who had conducted the investigation, claimed that there had been "significant inconsistencies" between what the complainant said to the Rowan Centre for Sexual Assault and what she told the police.

"Yes, there were," the officer answered, but went on to explain that differing or inconsistent accounts could be attributed to trauma, mistake or fragmented memory.

When asked about the mechanics of the sex attack and how Mr Olding's penis came to be in her mouth, she told police: "I am not entirely sure to be honest." When she was again asked in the same interview about this, she said: "There was no conversation. I didn't have a choice. I am really sure my head was forced down."

Her account was in one way verified by independent witness Dara Florence, who claimed to have witnessed sex "100%", though on the other hand she said that it had looked like a consensual threesome.

Defence barristers put it to the complainant that she appeared to have spent around an hour in Paddy Jackson's bedroom , which they suggested was a long time, but she could not be certain of time.

At 4.43am, the Uber taxi app had been opened on her phone - some nine minutes before a call had been made from Blane McIlroy's phone to Rory Harrison's phone and 15 minutes before Rory Harrison had made a phone call to a taxi company.

The defence teams had questions about this, given her account of running out of the house and then realising that she had forgotten her phone, going back inside to get it and then being followed out onto the street by Mr Harrison. But the young woman could not remember.

In his closing address, Brendan Kelly QC told the jurors they must be convinced of guilt before they can convict.

He described the woman's evidence as "flawed" by inconsistencies and by untruth and suggested she had only reported the event as a rape because she had been afraid Ms Florence may have had a camera and was "petrified" photographs of her involved in group sex would end up published on social media.

In the end, the jury preferred the version of events presented by the defendants.

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