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Blood-stained sheets, a pornographic gif and a tweet: Legal arguments in the rugby rape trial

The restriction imposed at the beginning of the trial was lifted today as the jury can no longer be prejudiced.

Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding
Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

REPORTING RESTRICTIONS HAVE been lifted in the Belfast rugby rape trial, meaning details heard in the trial of Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison in the absence of the jury can now be reported.

A number of issues arose in the course of the trial, during which the four men were acquitted of all charges, which Judge Patricia Smyth ruled should be kept from the jury.

Following an application from a number of media outlets, the restriction imposed at the beginning of the trial was lifted today as the jury can no longer be prejudiced.

The legal arguments included:

Tweet

The media was not able to report on an application made by Frank O’Donoghoe – the barrister representing Stuart Olding – in the final stages of the trial to discharge the jury.

O’Donoghoe made the application to Judge Smyth on the 40th day of the trial over concerns about a tweet sent by Alliance Party leader Naomi Long.

During his closing speech to the jury, O’Donoghoe commented that other people were in Jackson’s house on the night of the incident, which prompted him to ask why the complainant didn’t shout and scream when she was being attacked.

In his address, the barrister told the jury, “A lot of very middle-class girls were downstairs. They were not going to tolerate a rape or anything like that.”

In reaction, Long said on Twitter:

What, because “working class girls” wouldn’t care/don’t matter/think rape is normal? What is the implication of that comment even meant to be? Appalling at every level.

Judge Smyth had already started her charge to the jury when O’Donoghoe asked her to discharge it. Saying he was “frankly aghast” by the tweet, he said it had “provoked significant reaction” from the public and had been liked and widely retweeted by Long’s followers. The request to discharge the jury was not granted but Long was officially asked to remove the tweet.

Judge’s reactions

On the same day, lawyers for Paddy Jackson applied to have the jury discharged. They cited issues around the judge’s pace, tone and delivery of her charges to the jury. RTÉ News reports that Brendan Kelly QC said he made the application “on instruction” and with a “heavy heart”.

It was also rejected.

A pornographic gif 

Writing in the Irish Independent, Nicola Anderson and Eimear Cotter have details on an application by lawyers for Stuart Olding and Rory Harrison to have a video sent via Whatsapp the morning after the alleged incident excluded from evidence. The gif depicted what was referred to as a ‘spit roast’ during the trial – that of a woman having penetrative sex with a man at the same time as giving oral sex to another man.

Harrison sent the gif, understood to be have been downloaded from the internet, to Olding the day after the party in Jackson’s house.

Eventually, the judge ruled with the accused because the video was sent without a caption, there was a doubt over its probative value.

Blood-stained sheets

After a legal argument about photographic evidence of Paddy Jackson’s bedroom, Judge Smyth ruled that the jury should be shown the images after blood stains on the sheets were airbrushed out.

Blood relating to the complainant in this trial was discovered on Jackson’s duvet cover but other blood not related to the complainant could also be seen. The court never heard what the source of this blood was, Conor Gallagher in the Irish Times reports.

There was also evidence excluded about where semen belonging to Olding was found on the complainant’s jeans. During legal argument, it emerged the semen was present on the crotch but this specific information was kept from the jury.

Reporting restrictions

Any reporting restrictions imposed during a trial are usually automatically lifted at its conclusion, as the jury can no longer be prejudiced. However, in the rugby rape trial, this was not the case. A barrister representing several media outlets made an application to have the press ban lifted.

It was listed again today, with barristers for all four men who stood trial telling Judge Smyth they would not be opposing the application made on behalf of the media.

After confirming “everyone is in agreement that the restrictions should be lifted”, Judge Smyth withdrew the ban – but said the order granting anonymity to four young witnesses who are friends of the complainant remained in place.

Judge Smyth then thanked counsel and said “that really is the end of the proceedings”.

Jackson and Olding were found not guilty of raping the complainant in the case – a now 21-year-old female student – in the early morning of Tuesday 28 June 2016.

Jackson was also found not guilty of sexually assaulting the then-19-year-old.

McIlroy was found not guilty of exposure. Harrison, was found not guilty of perverting the course of justice and withholding information in the aftermath of the incident.

All four were found not guilty of all charges against them by the jury of eight men and three women.

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About the author:

Ashleigh McDonald

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