Belfast Telegraph

'Rape is a game of power and control. They rely on your silence. The only way you can take power back is when you actually do something about it. Going to the police was doing something about it'

 

The court case involving two Ulster and Ireland rugby players accused of raping a 19-year-old woman - and two of their friends on charges related to the same events - has attracted a level of media and public attention which, in Northern Ireland, has usually been reserved for terrorist show trials.

Now entering its eighth week, the case had the whiff of celebrity and the type of sensational allegations that naturally grip the public imagination.

While the jury were urged by Toby Hedworth QC, in his summing-up of the prosecution case, to ignore the fact that the defendants are well-known sportsmen, it was obvious this was not the thought uppermost in the minds of those who packed the Belfast courtroom when the trial began seven weeks earlier.

Opening the case, Mr Hedworth laid it out in simple terms. It centred "on allegations of serious sexual misconduct by the first three defendants (Jackson, Olding and McIlroy) and attempts by their friend, the fourth defendant (Harrison), to cover up their conduct."

Filling in the details, he related how the complainant had met the accused at Ollie's nightclub in the centre of Belfast and had gone back to Jackson's home. There were other women at the party. There, the young woman and Jackson had kissed in his bedroom, but the lawyer alleged she had made it clear that she did not want to go any further.

Mr Hedworth said that, later, the young woman went back to the bedroom to get her handbag. Jackson followed her and pushed her down on the bed and raped her, he said.

"He had not in any way sought her consent and, indeed, had used force to achieve his aim," he added.

Mr Hedworth claimed Olding entered the bedroom and forced the girl to perform oral sex on him. At one stage, another woman entered the room and Jackson asked if she would be interested in joining in, but she declined and left. McIlroy was said to have entered the bedroom naked.

Harrison left the house with the 19-year-old woman in a taxi, whose driver noted she was upset during the journey.

When the complainant - who cannot be named for legal reasons - entered the witness box, she was shielded from the defendants and the public by a heavy blue curtain, although she could be seen on a closed-circuit television screen.

She broke down on several occasions while giving evidence, although, at other times, she was noted as showing a steely determination.

It was obviously a trying experience for her.

Describing her reaction when Jackson allegedly raped her, she told the court: "In that moment, you think you are going to kick and scream and fight, but it doesn't work that way. Look, you just freeze."

She went on to describe how Olding came into the bedroom. "My heart sank. I knew what was going to happen."

She said Olding forced her to perform oral sex. She also claimed Jackson further attacked her and then a completely naked McIlroy came into the room.

At that stage, she thought: "This is not going to happen again."

As she got off the bed, got her clothes and fled the room, she allegedly told the men: "How many times does a girl have to say no for it to sink in?"

She said that she was reluctant to go to police at first, but added: "The more I thought about it, rape is a game of power and control. They rely on your silence. The only way you can take power back is when you actually do something about it. Going to the police was doing something about it. I may be preventing it happening to someone else."

She admitted she feared that the players' reputation and status - and possible backing by Ulster Rugby - would make her look "like a stupid little girl".

When the four accused were interviewed by police, all strenuously denied the charges.

Harrison was first interviewed as a witness and only subsequently was it decided to press charges against him.

The prosecution case, which involved police witnesses, evidence from the taxi driver who took Harrison and the complainant from Jackson's house and, among others, the girl who entered the room when the alleged rape was happening, lasted a total of 24 days.

Then it was the turn of the accused to tell their version of events.

Paddy Jackson was first into the witness box. He maintained that all sexual activity with the girl was consensual. He said the first encounter (when they kissed in his bedroom) ended when she asked if he knew her name and he admitted that he did not.

He said she later followed him back into the room, where they began kissing. At one stage, she pulled down his trousers and boxer shorts and began performing oral sex on him, he said. At that stage, Olding walked in on them. "It was a bit embarrassing."

Jackson admitted he intended to have sexual intercourse with the girl, but he could not find a condom.

He said he would have "completely freaked out" if he had known she had left his home in a distressed state.

He also said he was disappointed that his friends had not told him that the woman had sent a text message to Harrison, saying that what happened was "not consensual".

He said he would have gone to the police or tried to contact the woman if he had known what she said. The court also heard of the personality of Jackson - he had never been in a fight, was not a violent person, liked to sketch and draw superheroes and enjoys rap music and mime.

He was followed into the witness box by Olding, who admitted he had taken 23 drinks on the day and night in question and said he stumbled in on Jackson and the woman in bed when he was looking for somewhere to sleep after partying.

He said he did not notice any oral sex taking place when he entered the room and claimed that the woman held out her hand to him as in invitation to stay and then they began kissing passionately. Afterwards, she allegedly performed oral sex on him.

He denied that he forced her into the act and said there was no indication she was not consenting to it. He also denied that the four friends were trying to cover up what happened.

In cross-examination, Mr Hedworth said: "The reality is that you and your friends went beyond the point of what you knew was acceptable and were trying to cover up what happened on a drunken night out with you and Paddy Jackson and Blane McIlroy."

Olding replied: "That is not true. I am saying that everything that happened that night was completely consensual."

The third defendant, McIlroy, denied he walked into the bedroom naked and asked the girl to have sex with him. He said any sexual activity was consensual and ended when he went looking for a condom, but could not find one.

McIlroy said he did not take a text from Harrison saying the woman was in hysterics seriously because he had seen her leave the house and "knew she was not in hysterics".

He rejected claims that the four met in a cafe the following day to "concoct a lying account of what happened".

In cross-examination, it was suggested to McIlroy that he had got his lines wrong and had given Olding's version of events, but he denied this, saying he had told the truth from the word go.

Mr Hedworth called his story "preposterous" and added: "Can I make it clear this is complete fantasy island on your behalf, isn't it?"

When Harrison gave evidence, he said Jackson, whom he had known from childhood, would be "the last person in the world" to rape someone. He added: "I don't believe it. I thought she had done something and then regretted it."

He was giving evidence last Saturday, when the court sat - in an unusual move - to try and make up time after days were lost when two jurors took ill. One was dismissed from the case, but the other was able to continue.

Harrison told the court that he did not tell Jackson about the text message sent to him by the woman saying that the events that night were not consensual because, "I did not believe it. I did not want to worry him about something I had absolutely no faith was true".

He denied knowing or believing that the woman had been raped and attempting to cover it up. He admitted meeting the other three men the following day, but only stayed in their company 20 or 25 minutes and said there had been no clandestine conversations.

He admitted he had told McIlroy to leave his phone at home when police asked him to come to the station, but he denied this was an attempt to impede the investigation, or conceal anything. "I was aware that police seize phones. It is pretty inconvenient when you lose numbers and photographs."

With both the prosecution and defence cases concluded, it was time for the prosecuting and defence lawyers to sum up before the jury. Then it will be the turn of the judge to advise the jury on their duty and the points of law that they should consider.

And then it will be up to the eight men and three women to decide if the four defendants, or any of them, are guilty of the charges levelled against them.

That will be the gripping denouement of a trial which has caught the public attention like few others in recent times.

The four rugby players who stand accused

Paddy Jackson (26), of Oakleigh Park, Belfast, is accused of raping a 19-year-old woman on June 28, 2016, at his home and also of sexual assault. He denies the charges.

Stuart Olding (24), of Ardenlee Street, Belfast, is also accused of raping the 19-year-old woman on the same date. He denies the charge.

Blane McIlroy (26), from Royal Lodge Road, Belfast, is accused of exposing himself on the same date. He denies the charge.

Rory Harrison (25), of Manse Road, Belfast, is accused of perverting the course of justice and of withholding information. He denies the charge.

Belfast Telegraph

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