James Carson, Sports Editor.
The trial of Ulster and Ireland rugby stars Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding has concluded the third week of hearing at Belfast Crown Court. Mr Jackson stands accused of one count of rape and one count of sexual assault, whilst Mr Olding faces two charges of rape. The rugby players are joined on trial by friends Blaine McIlroy and Rory Harrison who face charges of exposure and perverting the course of justice respectively. All four defendants pled not guilty to the charges emerging from the allegations of a nineteen-year-old student who claimed the incident took place at Mr Jackson’s Oakleigh Park home.
The trial resumed Monday with counsel for Mr McIlroy, Arthur Harvey QC addressing the discrepancies between the alleged victim’s police statement, medical examination and testimony in the court. Focusing initially on her allegation during police and court testimony that Mr McIlroy was completely naked as he entered the room, Mr Harvey QC drew a comparison between this and her medical report where she claimed Mr McIlroy entered the room then got undressed.
The alleged victim responded that she struggled to give the medical report following the alleged incident, “you go into shutdown, it’s incredibly hard to state what happened until you’ve actually processed it.” However, Mr Harvey suggested the young woman was “repeating something you’ve read rather than your own personal experience” and targeting the fact the student continually responded to questions using the impersonal pronoun of ‘you’ when responding to questions. Mr Harvey QC suggested she was “creating a narrative” to make her testimony “applicable to every rape victim” which the alleged victim insisted was “completely incorrect.”
Mr Harvey concluded his questioning by insisting the alleged victim’s memory was “clouded by drink or an unwillingness to acknowledge what had happened; that you had sex with a number of men after going back to their house uninvited.” Despite the rejection by the young woman, Mr Harvey continued, “you have an easy facility of moving between truth, untruth and self-delusion” and insisting the young woman was exhibiting “self-delusion, when we prefer a version of events better than reality,” which she vehemently denied.
As Tuesday’s proceedings began, the alleged victim concluded her testimony and the prosecution called the woman who walked in on the alleged incident. The prosecutor, Toby Hedworth QC resumed questioning the witness where she outlined that she was at Ollie’s nightclub on the night of the attack before returning to Mr Jackson’s house for a party with the alleged victim. The witness claimed the alleged victim had “been drinking too but not considerably a lot” and when they arrived at Mr Jackson’s house there was a relaxed atmosphere with a “few drinks and some music.”
The witness claimed the alleged victim was “mixing fine” but was struggling to settle into the party as she was on her own. As the witness was leaving around 4 am, her and a friend sought the other member who accompanied them and went upstairs to find her where they heard “moaning and noise” coming from where they thought she was. The witness’s friend opened the door and following a brief exchange she shut the door stating in “a joking manner, oh my god, I’ve just seen a threesome” involving Mr Jackson, Mr Olding and the alleged victim. The witness claimed Mr Jackson had joked to her friend about “joining in” but the witness and her friend went home after failing to find their third friend.
When questioned by Mr Jackson’s barrister, Brendan Kelly QC the witness maintained the statement she gave to the police was still her position insisting “when I left the room I did not feel I had witnessed a rape.” When asked by Mr Kelly if her police statement claiming the alleged victim was not distressed remains her recollection, the witness responded it “100 percent” remained the same.
However, the court heard notable evidence from the third friend who the prior witness was looking for in the house. The woman had fallen asleep in Mr Jackson’s living room after having too much to drink, waking up on an l-shaped sofa with Mr Olding sleeping on the other side of it. After phoning her friend who had left the party earlier, she was told about the threesome and mentioned this to Mr Jackson who shook his head and claimed: “nothing happened.”
As court reconvened on Wednesday, the taxi driver who took the alleged victim and Mr Harrison home following the alleged incident gave testimony to the state of the young woman when she left the house. When questioned by Mr Hedworth QC, the driver insisted the young woman was incredibly upset and she was “sobbing throughout the journey. She did not really talk very much at all, bar telling me where to go.” When asked the role of Mr Harrison in the car, the driver insisted he was trying to comfort the young woman outlining his recollection of “her head was placed on his chest. He was trying to comfort her.”
Mr Hedworth also sought clarification about a phone call received by Mr Harrison during the car journey. Despite the driver only being able to brief moments of the call, he recalled “him saying to the person on the phone ‘she is with me now. She is not good. I’ll call you in the morning.’ ” When the taxi arrived at the alleged victim’s house, the driver claimed she was unsteady and needed assistance to get to her front door.
When under cross-examination from Mr Kelly QC, the driver was asked about staining he claimed to have noticed on the alleged victim’s trousers. The driver claimed that when checking the car seats, there was no sign of stains, but he felt they had dried in. This was supplemented by questions from Mr Duffy QC where the driver confirmed he had no concerns he felt ought to be reported to police.
The court also heard evidence from a friend of the alleged victim who had joined her on the night out but had been separated from the young woman and only discovered she was at Mr Jackson’s house following a 3.04am text. The friend would not receive another reply from the alleged victim until the following morning when she received a text saying “worst night ever. So I got raped” accompanied with five upsides down emoji faces.
Mr Hedworth sought to establish her immediate reaction to receiving the messages to which she responded “obviously I was in shock. I was like, ”oh my God. I am so sorry, I shouldn’t have left you.” She attempted to call the alleged victim and the court heard other texts surrounding her physical condition. At this point, her friend urged her to go forward to the police and the rape crisis centre.
Following this, the court heard another series of text messages where the alleged victim described the defendants as “scum, It’s that schoolboy rugby attitude times a million.” She outlined the concern she had about proceeding with a case against Mr Jackson and Mr Olding as “it will be a case of my word against theirs, not like they have CCTV in their house and because there’s more of them they’ll all have the same fabricated story about me being some slut who was up for it. It will serve no purpose for me but be embarrassing.”
Thursday saw Mr Kelly begin cross-examination of the alleged victim’s friend surrounding the fact she was the first person to learn of the alleged incident. When asked what made it her believe the view of the young woman, her friend “assumed she would be telling the truth. She would not be lying to me.” Mr Kelly continued by questioning the meaning of a text from the alleged victim saying she wanted to speak to “someone legally” about the events. The friend responded by claiming “statistics generally are not in your favour and I presumed she was going to speak to someone about that” but when forced to clarify this statement the alleged victim was seeking genuine legal counsel.
The court also heard the alleged victim’s friend cross-examined by the barrister for Mr Olding, Frank O’Donoghue QC who observed that there was “no reference” to the oral sex in any dialogue after the week. Mr O’Donoghue asked if the alleged victim has ever told her friend that “she had been simultaneously raped in the mouth and vagina?” to which the witness responded she hadn’t.
When questioned by Mr Harvey QC, it emerged the first time the friend encountered the alleged victim following the disputed incident was when she travelled to her house to take her to a sexual health clinic in Belfast. The witness claimed as soon as the alleged victim “got into the care she immediately hugged me and started crying” to which was such an exceptional event the witness “didn’t even know how to respond to that.”
This week’s proceedings concluded on Friday with consideration of a statement by Mr Harrison two days after the alleged attack. The prosecution called a Detective Constable from the Rape Crisis Unit who interviewed Mr Harrison as a witness and took a six-page statement from the defendant. In the statement, Mr Harrison outlined how the four defendants met in Cutter’s Wharf before proceeding to Ollie’s nightclub. When in the club, people were approaching Mr Jackson and Mr Olding for photos as they were known to play professional rugby for Ulster. Around 2 am, Mr Harrison and the defendants left for Mr Jackson’s house because he was “the only one of us who has his own place, it was assumed we would go back there” and upon arrival, there was a good atmosphere at the house.
However, Mr Harrison claimed that the alleged victim “appeared to be staring at and fixated on Paddy…She didn’t appear to take her eyes off Paddy.” Mr Harrison claims that Mr Jackson went to his bedroom alone for about an hour after returning, but “shortly after Paddy left… (the alleged victim) left the living room. I saw her heading up the stairs. I didn’t know where she was going to.”
It was not until two girls left in a taxi that Mr Harrison decided it was time for him to leave as well. At this point, he went to say goodbye to Mr Jackson, but when he got upstairs he found the alleged victim outside Mr Jackson’s bedroom where he “didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary at this time.” Following saying goodbye to Mr Jackson and seeing Mr Olding asleep in the living room, Mr Harrison claims the alleged victim then came down the stairs and she was “quite upset and crying. I asked if she was okay and she just sat there and didn’t respond. I told her I would drop her home as I had just ordered a taxi.”
Whilst in the taxi, Mr Harrison told police there was “no real conversation between us” and the alleged victim “kept crying into herself and appeared to be unsettled.” Mr Harrison then walked the victim to her front door. The statement concluded by stating the four defendants met in a café on Ormeau road the next afternoon where the men discussed the “South African Rugby Tour Paddy had just returned from…there was no discussion about the previous evening.”
Following another difficult week of evidence, Judge Patricia Smyth urged the jury to be “on your guard” reminding them they are “not permitted to discuss anything to do with this trial” with friends and family members. The trial will enter its penultimate week when it resumes next week.