“This is not a court of morals” - The final days of the Belfast rape trial 1 month ago

“This is not a court of morals” - The final days of the Belfast rape trial

“The lads? The legends? You decide.” These closing words of prosecuting counsel were followed by an invitation to the jury to return a verdict of guilty in the Belfast trial.

For more than two hours, Toby Hedworth QC held a captive audience as he laid out the prosecution’s case against Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison to the jury of eight men and three women.

Outside of the courtroom, there was a line to get into the public gallery, inside it smelt of wet wool and bodies.

There is no restriction in Northern Ireland courts as to who can observe justice being done from the vantage of the public gallery. Rape cases are not held in camera as they are in criminal courts in the Republic. And on a grey, wet, Belfast day, 100 people filed into Courtroom 12 to see what was going on.

“When you come here to this court you do not leave your common sense and your experience of life behind you,” said Toby Hedworth who, throughout his address, turned to face the jury and the jury alone.

There is no evidence left to hear in this trial and so the witness box to his right was empty.

“What happened in Patrick Jackson’s bedroom in the early hours of Tuesday the 28th of June represents, we submit, a throwback to the days of male entitlement,” said Toby Hedworth.

Dressed in the black robes and an off-white powdered wig of his profession, Hedworth pointed out that the trial this jury is sitting on is not a part of any agenda or MeToo movement, it is not gender politics or radical feminism, but it is “about the protections that any member of society is entitled to”.

A barrister who practices mainly in the north-east of England, Toby Hedworth QC, delivered his address without humour, taking the jury through the crown prosecution’s case against the four defendants, the evidence they have heard and a few “salient” points he wanted to remind the jury of.

Hedworth submitted to the jury that Patrick Jackson, Stuart Olding and Blane McIlroy were full of drink, their passions were up and they had no interest what the young woman at the centre of this trial wanted that night and they took sexual advantage of her.

“Who cares where they went to school?” Hedworth asked. The court heard last week of the defendants’ secondary school careers.

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“Who cares about their junior team, what rugby academy they went to or their level of success on a rugby field?” The court also heard about the defendants' rugby accolades for Ireland, and Jackson and Harrison’s days playing mini-rugby for Belfast Harlequins.

Jackson’s defence would later respond to this to say that it was the defence’s decision to bring up Jackson’s profession and that no “rugby card” was being played and no favours were being looked for because of the school Jackson went to or the team Jackson played on.

“It matters not if you are a prince or a pauper,” Hedworth continued. “You are just as capable of getting drunk and doing something that, in the cold light of day, when you realise the consequences for yourself, you regret”.

There was complete silence in the courtroom as Hedworth delivered his statement, reading from printed A4 pages, taking just one repose to give the jury a break from hearing his gently plummy voice.

The prosecution outlined once more for the jury the charges the defendants stand accused of: Patrick Jackson for vaginal rape and sexual assault, Stuart Olding for oral rape, Blane McIlroy for indecent exposure and Rory Harrison for withholding information and perverting the course of justice. They each deny all of the charges made against them.

It is more than six weeks since the complainant, a nineteen-year-old student who was out celebrating her exams the night she went back to Paddy Jackson’s, gave her evidence and in that time, as Hedworth told the jury, “a great deal has happened”.

And so he quoted at length the sworn in evidence of the complainant who, he reminded the jury, isn’t attracted to celebrities, doesn’t follow rugby and didn’t know who the rugby players and the Northern Irish footballers in Ollie’s nightclub were.

Brendan Kelly QC responded to the prosecution’s closing address over the course of Thursday afternoon and Friday morning in an address segmented into 15 headed chapters and printed on 48 pages.

“This is not a courtroom of morals,” said Jackson’s defence barrister, raising his voice so the statement was emphasised.

“Drunken consent is still consent” and while “we may all have daughters, that’s not what this case is about. It’s about whether you can be sure Mr Jackson raped the complainant and sexually assaulted her with his fingers.”

Kelly told the jury repeatedly that if they could not be sure, absolutely sure of this charge, then it was their duty to acquit - he asked the jury to consider whether this case with its poor-quality evidence and inconsistencies deserved a conviction.

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Brendan Kelly spoke slowly throughout his final address to the jury, making each point clear, using his hands to demonstrate when talking about penile penetration, vaginal bruising and sexual assault.

Kelly paused proceedings just once midstream as the person behind him was typing too loudly for his concentration.

Kelly reminded the jury that they had seen CCTV footage from Ollie’s nightclub that showed the woman was stumbling as she left the club at throwing out time, that showed her grabbing Will Grigg, touching Kyle Lafferty and stroking the face of the Northern Ireland team doctor who bought her a drink.

Brendan Kelly suggested that this was behaviour consistent with Jackson’s description of the complainant as someone who was “very forward, tactile, and flirtatious”.

Paddy Jackson, Kelly said to the jury, was “just standing with his hands in his pockets”, calmly letting a girl take a selfie with him at throwing out time in Ollie’s nightclub. It was this same calm attitude and hands-in-the-pockets mentality, Kelly told the jury, that was Jackson’s state of mind when Dara Florence walked into the room and he asked her if she wanted to join in.

Kelly demonstrated Jackson’s attitude by putting his own hands in his own trouser pockets in courtroom 12, and shrugging.

Brendan Kelly addressed the consensual kiss between Paddy Jackson and the complainant by asking the jury to consider just what it was she went upstairs for. “What do you do,” he said, rhetorical in his tone “in a bedroom that couldn’t be done downstairs at that time in the morning? There were no model railways upstairs. There were no collections that needed inspection.”

There was no levity in court and Kelly’s musings about childhood toys fell upon the ears of a jury who have heard seven weeks of evidence and unusually, as recognised by defence, have been on a visit to Jackson’s south Belfast townhouse and to see his home and master bedroom.

Kelly attempted a jot of humour again on Friday morning, with better results this time, as the public gallery laughed out loud after he remarked on Peter Andre being a musician of questionable talents.

The remark came in the context of Andre’s song Mysterious Girl, the first line of which Brendan Kelly explained is “I said tonight was your lucky night” and also the inspiration for the message in the JACOME WhatsApp group which was sent by the member of the group referred to as AA in court.

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That “lucky night” says the prosecution was the night that the complainant was vaginally and orally raped and sexually assaulted.

Toby Hedworth asked the jury to consider at length what the gain was for the complainant in reporting the crime.

“What does this young woman seek to gain by putting herself through the ordeal, the shame, the indignity of the physical examination, of going to the police of recounting all of this knowing what is likely to be deployed against her and coming here to this court day after day to relieve such a distressing event, unless of course it is because she is telling you the truth because a woman is entitled to say no regardless of how much testosterone is kicking about”.

Paddy Jackson’s defence suggested the reason the complainant reported rape to her friends and to the police was to avoid social ruination.

Brendan Kelly told the jury that the complainant had to get the morning after pill to be the “classic rape victim” and that she was already in "lie mode".  She had to paint a picture of assault for her friends because otherwise, Kelly submitted to the jury, if this got out she would be ruined.

She was “petrified,” said Brendan Kelly that an expose with a famous rugby player would be released on social media.

It is the defence’s position, Toby Hedworth said to the 11 jurors, that this is a silly girl who had done something she now regretted.

It is their position, he repeated, that the complainant “amongst these macho young men” had been the empowered individual. She had been in control of Jackson, Olding and McIIroy and she used each of them one by one for her own sexual gratification, this is the defence's position said Hedworth in tones of disbelief.

While the prosecution referred to the complainant primarily as a “young woman”, the sentence “a silly young girl who has done something she regretted ”was stitched throughout their closing statement.

It is a sentence which finds its origins, not only from a text sent by Rory Harrison to his friend Blane McIlroy saying of the complainant she was: “just a silly girl who done something then regretted it", but also from a message sent by the complainant to her friend in the hours after she alleges she was raped by Jackson and Olding: “They’ll say it was consensual, I was up for it, stupid little girl now regretting it. That is the stance they will take”. Toby Hedworth stopped for a beat after reading this text aloud to the jury.

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“Pausing there ladies and gentlemen,” said Hedworth, fulfilling his own words before continuing to say, “‘That is the stance they will take’. Spot on, spot on.”

 Five times during the closing statement, the prosecution returned to the words of Rory Harrison, to quote “just a silly little girl", something Hedworth submitted to the audience was not the case. The complainant he said is not telling a “pack of lies” but “telling the truth”.

The complaint’s truth was soon labelled fiction by Jackson’s defence who told the jury that they should consider taking notes during his speech as he had 15 chapters to get through and he wasn’t going to apologise for having so much to say.

It is the jury’s job to decide “where the truth lies” Kelly said and it is the defence’s position that the core of this case is flawed by lies and fiction.

Brendan Kelly said to the jury, who have now been sitting a full two weeks beyond the original calendar end to the trial, “People sometimes lie. That’s why we’re here.”

Kelly said to the jury that at the heart of this case, “dubbed the Belfast rape trial”, is lies and untruths by the woman who alleged she was raped in Paddy Jackson’s bedroom in June 2016.

The reaction of the complainant, while she was in Jackson’s bedroom, was parsed from several perspectives by the prosecution and the defence.

Hedworth read out the complainant’s evidence directly.  "You think you’re going to kick and scream and fight, it doesn’t work that way you literally freeze…”

A medical examiner for the defence was also quoted by Hedworth. Janet Hall told the court that in her experience and in the research it is overwhelmingly the evidence that the majority of victims of sexual assault freeze in fear and allow it to happen rather than “seeking to resist”.

Jackson’s defence counsel, would later say this to the jury; “Frozen for an hour? Think of an hour, for that period of time. You take your top off, well you are ordered to take your top off, you look people in the eye, you scratch and nip… How frozen are you if you perform oral sex to the point of ejaculation?”

“People lie because they have no option and submit to the lie. This is not frozen. This, ladies and gentlemen, is engaging.”

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The prosecution submitted to the jury that while there were inconsistencies in the account of the complainant between what she told her friends, the examiner at the Brook clinic, the Rowan clinic and the police, these inconsistencies were consistent with the trauma often experienced by a victim in the aftermath of a sexual crime.

Kelly told the jury that it was their job to decide where the truth lies, that “consistency is the hallmark of truth, liars deviate” and that the complainant “edited” her account when she told her friends what happened, leaving out the witness entering the room, leaving out the oral rape in the Brook Clinic and the Rowan sexual assault treatment centre and not telling the police about the witness in her first recorded interview with them on the 30th June 2016.

The inconsistencies in the four defendants’ stories were piled up and “laid bare” for the jury by Toby Hedworth, who labelled them as preposterous.

The defence argued against the prosecution’s case that McIlroy was in the doorway holding his penis when the complainant broke from a passive state of fear into fight mode. Speaking to the jury Kelly said the prosecution had not been able to explain why then the complainant had described, in a text message to her friend, McIlroy as the “nastiest” of them all.

It makes no sense, submitted the defence, that while Jackson had from the complainant’s account raped and assaulted her and held her captive for an hour and Olding had joined in, that it was Blane McIlroy who she saw as the worst of them all.

The defence suggested that the crown used Blane McIIroy for its own purposes to “worsen the case against Jackson and Olding”, a case which Kelly said was about the issue of “consent”.

After reading out 15 chapters of his closing speech on Friday morning, defence barrister Brendan Kelly surprised the court and jury with an “extra” chapter. A chapter on his client, Paddy Jackson himself.

Paddy Jackson, he said, had no need to play a part in this criminal trial but Jackson “has not hidden, or tried to conceal or duck". He gave evidence and, not for the first time, he reminded the jury that is was Paddy Jackson’s very first time in court. He told the jury that his client’s life has been blighted for 20 months by this case said his defence counsel.

Kelly asked the jury to look at Mr Jackson and to see for themselves, “Is he trying to play the rugby card? He is not”.

“He plays for Ireland so what?”

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“Look with care,” he implored, “and don’t be unfair”.

As Hedworth’s two-hour long monologue came to an end, he built to an audible crescendo by asking the jury to consider the defence’s case from the woman’s perspective.

“Do you for one moment buy the jointly painted picture of a young woman beckoning other men into the bedroom of the man she has been fixated with, immediately putting him to one side to perform sexual acts, the same she had done with him, on each of his friends in turn?

“Of course we reach the preposterous stage where each of the defendants are arguing with each other’s counsel about who was doing what, whose hand was there and of course if you can’t get the stories to fit one or more of them. one or more of them will have to fall back to falling in and out of sleep.

“And this is why a good schooling, a good rugby career, even an act of kindness count for nothing when they are used to disguise the realities of what overbearing drunk young men do when their passions are raised and they have got available to them a young woman whose own views about what is being done to her matters not”.

The trial continues on Wednesday when the jury is scheduled to hear the closing statement from Stuart Olding’s defence, followed by closing statements from Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison’s defence counsel.