Belfast Telegraph

Sunday Life

Rugby rape trial witness Dara Florence turned down big cash offers to sell story

Star witness Dara says harsh public scrutiny which came with her appearance on stand was hard to deal with

By Christopher Woodhouse

THE witness whose testimony changed the course of the highest profile trial Northern Ireland has seen in decades has hit out at the reaction to her evidence on social media.

Dara Florence found herself at the centre of the case which decided the fate of Ulster and Ireland rugby stars Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

But when approached by Sunday Life the university student said she didn't want to talk about her experience after the jury gave their dramatic not guilty verdicts last week.

"I didn't really like what was written online... I feel I said what I needed to say," she told Sunday Life.

The 21-year-old brunette said the trial, which was one of the longest heard in Northern Ireland in recent times, "had not been nice" for anyone involved.

It's also understood that last week she turned down big money offers from other media outlets across the UK and Ireland for her own story, preferring to let what she said in Belfast Crown Court 12 stand as the sole legacy of her role in the case.

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Dara Florence Picture Colm O'Reilly Sunday Life

What started for her as a usual night out at Ollie's nightclub with friends and then a house party in Belfast ended up being picked over in minute detail during the nine-week trial.

It was her evidence about what she saw when she walked into the bedroom at Jackson's house during what the alleged victim claimed was a rape that helped ensure they would walk free.

In her turn in the witness box she said she "saw a threesome" and told how Paddy Jackson asked her if she wanted "to join in". This unleashed a torrent of vile comments online, with many attacking her reliability and even her appearance. However, others hailed her as the strongest possible proof that the woman had engaged in consensual sex with both Olding and Jackson.

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Dara Florence

Under questioning by prosecution barrister Toby Hedworth QC, Ms Florence said she didn't know Jackson before that night but at closing time she made her way out of the club with her friends and got talking to him and Harrison.

She said she didn't know the woman personally and hadn't seen her in Ollie's but was in a taxi with her, her friend Clare Matthews and Jackson.

Back at the house she said there was "some dancing, a bit of ABBA", to laughs from the public gallery.

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Dara and Clare Matthews

Mr Hedworth asked: "Did you talk with her (the complainant) at the party?"

"A bit of chit chat, what school she went to and mutual friends," she replied.

She said she had no cause for concern during the night and she eventually decided to go home with Clare Matthews.

It was then the pair of them went to find their friend Emily Docherty and started off by checking the kitchen.

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Rory Harrison, Paddy Jackson and Dara Florence

"We then started going upstairs calling 'Emily, where are you?' but she wasn't answering," she said.

Heading up the stairs she said she could hear "some kind of moaning" which she thought was Emily.

"What sort of moaning was it?" asked Mr Hedworth.

"It wasn't distressed or anything like that, didn't think it was sexual, just enough to make me think it was Emily," she said.

Ms Florence then approached the bedroom and opened the door.

"With what result?" asked Mr Hedworth.

"I saw a threesome," she said.

"I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to describe this in some detail, how long were you at the door," he asked.

"Less than a minute," she said.

"Describe what it was specifically you saw," said Mr Hedworth.

"The bed was straight in front of me and Paddy Jackson was sitting on his knees and she was with her bum against him, her head was down towards Olding's middle," she said.

"He (Jackson) was like thrusting into her," said Ms Florence.

"He (Olding) was propped up on the bed pillows, his legs were spread out and her head was in the middle of them.

"To me it was like she turned her head away."

"Was there anything said?" asked Mr Hedworth.

"Paddy said, 'Do you want to join in?', I said no," she said.

"When he asked you that was he still doing what he was doing to the woman?" asked Mr Hedworth.

"Yes," she said.

"You having declined the invitation, what happened?" he said.

"I closed the door, I sort of laughed and said to Clare I saw a threesome and went downstairs."

Upon going downstairs she said she talked with Rory Harrison and Blane McIlroy and when she and Clare Matthews went to leave, McIlroy offered her to stay as she would "have the best night of her life".

When asked what she thought of the woman who made the rape allegation, she said: "She seemed like a nice girl. I think we were dancing and I think I remember her getting up beside us and dancing for a bit.

"Everybody bar me was drinking but I don't remember her being overly drunk."

Mr Kelly took her through her police statement in which she told officers "when I left the room I didn't feel as if I had just witnessed a rape" which she agreed confirmed what she said and that she had no feelings of concern when she left the room.

Dara Florence stated that during the search for Emily Docherty at around 4am, she had been "screaming her name pretty loudly".

She also said that when she opened the door nobody had their hands on the woman's head and that she could only see Jackson's right hand.

After greeting Olding's barrister, Frank O'Donoghue, with a cheery "Hiya!" he asked her if she had met the rugby out-half in Ollie's, which she hadn't.

Ms Florence again stated that when she opened the door she could see Olding's hands on his own thighs, with his legs spread in a "V" shape and the woman's head between them.

When asked by McIlroy's barrister, she described him as a "nice guy".

"You were the most sober person who was there?" he asked her.

"Yes," she said.

Mr Harvey asked her if she felt McIlroy's suggestion to her to stay as she would "have the best night of her life" was in any way forceful or intended to embarrass but she said "no".

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