Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Alleged Belfast troll accused of naming rugby rape trial woman due in court

 

By Christopher Woodhouse

THIS is the man accused of revealing the name of the woman who alleged she had been raped by two Ulster rugby stars.

Sean McFarland is charged with breaching the woman’s right to lifetime anonymity while the trial was ongoing in February this year. Ulster and Ireland players Stuart Olding and Paddy Jackson were unanimously acquitted of raping the woman at a party in Jackson’s house after a night out in Belfast in June 2016.

Blane McIlroy was cleared of a charge of exposure while Rory Harrison was found not guilty of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

West Belfast man McFarland (35) is due in court this week on a single charge under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992.

If convicted he could face a fine of up to £5,000.

When Sunday Life called to his home in the Lenadoon area, he declined to comment on the case.

“I don’t want to say anything, you need to speak to my solicitor,” he said.

His case is listed at Belfast Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday but he does not have to attend in person as he can be represented by a solicitor in his absence.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS) confirmed a man had been charged with breaching the woman’s anonymity last month.

In a statement the PPS said a second person suspected of committing the same offence was not to be prosecuted due to insufficient evidence.

The nine-week trial at Belfast Crown Court was halted on numerous occasions.

One such delay was caused by an allegation that the complainant had been named on the internet. The matter was referred to the Attorney General John Larkin.

At the end of each day, Her Honour Judge Patricia Smyth QC warned the jury not to read news reports on the trial and singled out social media as posing a particular risk of prejudice.

On several occasions defence lawyers raised the issue of comments on social media jeopardising the men’s right to a fair trial.

Following the verdict, it emerged that one such comment was a tweet sent by Alliance leader Naomi Long. She had criticised comments by a defence lawyer concerning the social backgrounds of some of the witnesses in the case.

Retired Appeal Court Judge Sir John Gillen has been appointed to conduct a review of how sexual offence cases in Northern Ireland are conducted due to the potential impact of social media on a fair trial and a complainant’s anonymity.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Law in Action programme earlier this year, he said options he was considering included recommending the accused are granted anonymity during trials, as they are in the Irish Republic.

Sir John also raised the possibility of the public being excluded from attending such trials as the complainant’s right to anonymity has “disappeared” and had been “bandied about” on social media.

“The hammer of the law should come down on those who indulge in misconduct,” he said.

He said that as Belfast is a relatively small city, if people post about a case on social media the “law becomes a farce”.

Sir John cited the example of photos and the past history of the complainant, “completely untrue in most instances”, being shared online.

The Attorney General’s office is also investigating a juror who posted comments online under a story about the verdict.

Jurors are forbidden from revealing anything about their deliberations under contempt of court laws. Following their acquittal, lawyers for Jackson and Olding warned that they are monitoring social media for any potentially libellous comments about the men.

Social media chatter also had an effect on witnesses, mostly on the key witness Dara Florence.

Ms Florence (21) walked into the bedroom during what the complainant said was Jackson and Olding raping her.

Giving evidence she said she “saw a threesome” and said Jackson asked her if she wanted “to join in”.

This unleashed a torrent of vile comments online, with some attacking her reliability and even her appearance while others hailed her as the strongest possible proof that the sex had been consensual.

Ms Florence previously told this paper: “I didn’t really like what was written online... I feel I said what I needed to say.”

Belfast Telegraph

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