Reporting restrictions imposed during Belfast rape trial lifted

Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were acquitted of rape

Reporting restrictions imposed during Belfast rape trial lifted

Composite image shows (clockwise from left): Stuart Olding, Paddy Jackson, Rory Harrison and Blane McIlroy

Updated: 17.05

A judge has lifted a court order preventing the reporting of legal arguments heard in the absence of the jury during the Belfast rape trial.

It has been exactly two weeks since Ireland and Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were acquitted of raping a woman in June 2016.

Mr Jackson was also found not guilty of sexually assaulting the same woman.

Their friend Blane McIlroy from Royal Lodge Road in Belfast was cleared of exposing himself to her - and another friend of theirs called Rory Harrison from Manse Road was acquitted of perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

The media were banned from reporting on legal arguments that took place in the absence of the jury.

General view of Belfast Crown Court | Image: Niall Carson/PA Archive/PA Images

Trial judge Patricia Smyth has decided that order should be lifted following a hearing.

Until reporting restrictions were lifted, the public would not have known that additional blood staining on Paddy Jackson's bed sheets was airbrushed from the photo shown to the jurors.

The judge heard it belonged to 'a non-related person' and his barrister successfully argued it was capable of causing 'real prejudice'.

A short video of a 'spit-roasting', sent by Rory Harrison to Stuart Olding, was also deemed inadmissible.

It was excluded due to a lack of probative value.

There was also an unsuccessful attempt to stop the trial after Naomi Long, the leader of the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland, tweeted about something Mr Olding's barrister said during his closing speech.

Mr Jackson's barrister also applied for the jury to be discharged because of Judge Smyth's tone during her charge.

He claimed there was a 'degree of sympathy' while dealing with the complainant's evidence.

In any event, all attempts to stop the trial were unsuccessful and the jury returned with unanimous verdicts of not guilty this day two weeks ago.

What the jury didn't hear

Here are some of the legal arguments that were held in the absence of the jurors at various stages during the nine-week trial.

THE AIRBRUSHED BLOOD STAIN

While the complainant was still being cross-examined, a dispute arose over a photograph taken of Paddy Jackson's bed clothes after the alleged incident.

It showed an additional blood stain belonging to what was described as a 'non-related person'. Brendan Kelly QC for Mr Jackson successfully argued that the stain was capable of causing 'real prejudice' to the entire trial so it was decided to airbrush it out before it was shown to the jurors.

THE SPIT-ROAST GIF

On February 22nd 2018, an issue arose over a short pornographic video featuring a 'spit-roast' sent by Rory Harrison to Stuart Olding.

The defence argued it was irrelevant and could indicate bad character but the prosecution submitted it was relevant because it showed a discussion had taken place between the men about the night before and confirmed they had an opportunity to concoct a false story.

They submitted it was relevant to Mr Harrison's knowledge and state of mind when he drafted his witness statement but it was deemed inadmissible.

Judge Smyth accepted it was potentially relevant but questioned the probative value of it in the absence of a caption or text message and gave the accused the benefit of the doubt.

NAOMI LONG TWEET

Just two days before the jury began its deliberations, Stuart Olding's barrister Frank O'Donoghue QC applied for the jury to be discharged because of a tweet posted by the leader of the Alliance party in Northern Ireland Naomi Long in the early hours of March 22nd 2018.

At the time of publication, Ms Long had 30,000 Twitter followers and the tweet received 36 retweets and 277 likes.

Her tweet was a response to another Twitter user who had posted a few lines from Mr O'Donoghue’s closing speech when he posed the following question to the jurors:

"Why didn't she scream? A lot of very middle class girls were downstairs; they were not going to tolerate a rape or anything like that".

Ms Long posted the following reply: "I genuinely have no words for how atrocious this statement is. 'Middle class girls? 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".

Mr O’Donoghue sought to discharge the jury because of what he described as a 'real risk of prejudicing the jury' but Judge Smyth ruled against him because of her repeated warnings to the jurors from the outset not to look at any press reporting or social media; Twitter in particular.

She also was not satisfied there was a real risk of prejudice to the jury.

JUDGE’S TONE

On the same day as Mr O’Donoghue’s failed attempt to stop the trial, Brendan Kelly, QC for Paddy Jackson, applied to have the jury discharged for what he described as Judge Smyth’s 'sympathetic tone' while outlining the complainant’s evidence during her charge at the very end of the trial.

Mr Kelly QC said her delivery was the main concern and he said he was making the application 'on instruction' and with a 'heavy heart'.

He also asked for her to moderate her tone because he felt her delivery of his client’s case was being given a different status.

Judge Smyth refused his application and while she did not accept his view, she did agree to slow down her delivery afterwards.

Mr O’Donoghue also criticised her delivery on behalf of his client Stuart Olding.

SEMEN ON CROTCH OF TROUSERS

The jury heard Stuart Olding's semen was found on the woman's clothes but they were not told exactly where it was found and that is because his barrister Frank O’Donoghue QC took exception to the jurors being told there were traces found on the crotch area of the woman's white jeans.

The court heard a charge of vaginal rape against Mr Olding was dropped before Christmas and Mr O'Donoghue QC successfully argued it might create an 'unfair suspicion' in the minds of jurors.