James Carson, Sports Editor.
Criminal trial proceedings against Ireland and Ulster Rugby stars Patrick Jackson and Stuart Olding along with friends Blaine McIlroy and Rory Harrison began on Tuesday 30th January.
The four men are accused of raping a nineteen-year-old student at Mr Jackson’s house in Belfast on the 28th June 2016. At the plea hearings in November 2017, Jackson (26) pleaded not guilty to one count of rape and one count of sexual assault and teammate Olding (24) also pleaded not guilty to two counts of rape. The Ireland internationals are joined by McIlroy (26) who pleaded not guilty to one charge of exposure and Harrison (25) who pleaded not guilty to one charge of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.
The proceedings opened on January 29th with a jury of nine men and three women being sworn in. In anticipation of the sensitive evidence to follow, Judge Patricia Smith urged jurors to “keep your minds open until the very end, your view may well change as evidence unfolds” as they are the “only people who will see all the witnesses and hear all the evidence.”
Opening for the prosecution, Mr Hedworth QC said that this case concerns “allegations of serious sexual misconduct by the first three defendants, and the attempts by their friend, the fourth defendant to cover up their conduct.” He outlined how the complainant met the four defendants in Ollie’s nightclub around 10.30pm and returned to Mr Jacksons house under the pretence of an after party. Here the prosecution alleges the “young woman in question was vaginally raped and sexually assaulted by way of digital penetration by the first defendant Paddy Jackson and that she was orally raped by his friend, another professional rugby player Stuart Olding.”
The prosecution further alleges that during this period, Mr McIlroy wanted to participate in sexual activity with the complainant and intentionally exposed his genitals to her. The fourth defendant, Mr Harrison was deemed to have attempted to support the complainant after the alleged incident, but the prosecution alleges that he attempted to pervert the course of justice by aiding his friends in the aftermath of the allegations.
The court also heard crude text messages from a WhatsApp group chat which included the defendants which Mr Hedworth QC deemed as a “true flavour of the attitude of the defendants”. In the texts, Mr Olding allegedly stated “we are all top shaggers” before boasting “there was a bit of spit roasting going on last night fellas” and that the incident “was like a merry-go-round at a carnival.”
Mr Hedworth QC acknowledged that Mr Jackson and the complainant engaged in consensual kissing in his bedroom, but the complainant made it clear she would not consent to anything more. The complainant then attempted to leave the party but had to return to the bedroom to collect her handbag. The prosecution alleges that Mr Jackson followed her into the bedroom “where he pushed her onto the bed before pulling her trousers and pants down” and penetrating her from behind.
Mr Hedworth QC stated that Mr Jackson had not sought consent and proceeded to penetrate the complainant who described herself as feeling “numb throughout what happened.” During this period, the prosecution claims Mr Olding entered the room and proceeded to force her to perform oral sex.
The complainant took to the witness stand behind a curtain to provide an emotional and tear-filled account of the night. Echoing the timeline outlined by Mr Hedworth QC, the complainant stated that “rape is a game of power and control. They rely on your silence. You only take that back when you do something about it.”
Following the alleged assault, the complainant left the house and stated that Mr Harrison “came after her”, attempting to establish if she was okay. The complainant said that she “obviously wasn’t okay. I was crying a lot and he would have seen the blood on my trousers”. Harrison and the complainant shared a taxi to her house which he paid for and she articulated her gratitude to him and that she had “absolutely no complaint with Rory Harrison.”
The prosecution also sought to qualify why the complainant was reluctant to report the defendants to the PSNI. The complainant said that she doubted if the police would believe her version of events and expressed that her reluctance to report the alleged assault was due to embarrassment and the potential impact it would have on her family. After confiding in friends and attending a rape crisis centre in Belfast the complainant chose to go to the police.
The complainant was cross-examined by defence barrister Mr Brandon Kelly QC as day three of the trial began. Mr Kelly QC sought to clarify why the nineteen-year-old was so reluctant to go to the police after the alleged crimes took place.
The complainant expressed that her reluctance to come forward stemmed from a fear that “Ulster Rugby will vouch for their good character and I will just look like a stupid little girl.” During the proceedings, the court was shown an hour-long video of her police interview where she emotionally describes the events of her assault.
With the complainant stating in her prior testimony that another woman entered the bedroom during the alleged incident, Mr Kelly QC sought to clarify why she did not mention this during her police statement. The complained said this detail had “slipped my mind” and deemed this issue as secondary to the “salient” point that she had been raped.
As the trial reached the final day of its first week, the defence barristers continued their cross examination by showing the court CCTV footage from Ollie’s nightclub on 28th June 2016. Mr Kelly QC highlighted that the complainant had been in the VIP area of the nightclub in the company of Mr Jackson, Mr Olding and members of the Northern Ireland football team. The defence team drew attention to the complainant placing her hand on the knee of Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty which prompted Mr Kelly QC to ask if the young woman was “attracted at the time to celebrities?”
The complainant denied this claim and insisted that she didn’t know Mr Jackson or the other men in the nightclub. Mr Kelly QC proceeded to claim that the nineteen-year old had “watered down” her knowledge of the defendants, which she strongly denied and stated that she “didn’t go into the VIP area to meet rugby players”.
This trial, which has captured the public interest, recommences on Monday 5th February, when it will enter its second week.