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06.45 29 Mar 2018


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Updated: 08.50

A solicitor for Stuart Olding has claimed everybody on social media 'saw themselves as a reporter and social commentator.'

The comments from Paul Dougan follow a barrage of social media remarks surrounding the Belfast rape trial.

People who named the complainant in the trial on Twitter are now facing investigation by the PSNI.

The divisive role of social media has come centre stage, following the acquittal of Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Blane McIlory and Rory Harrison on Wednesday.

Mr Jackson's solicitor Joe McVeigh claimed on Wednesday that social media commentary 'infected' the trial on many occasions, and thinks police and the court authorities in the North need to urgently address the problem.

He claimed that despite the verdict, "vile commentary expressed on social media, going well beyond fair comment, has polluted the sphere of public discourse and raise real concerns about the integrity of the trial process."

The trial attracted a barrage of comment on Twitter and other platforms.

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

Some spoke in support of the complainant, with the hashtag 'I believe her'.

Others posted derogatory comments about the woman, and a few went as far as naming her.

Under Northern Ireland law, that is an offence.

Detective Chief Superintendent Paula Hilman is head of the PSNI's Public Protection Branch.

"I would like to pay tribute to the young woman who had the resolve and confidence to come forward and put her faith in police and the criminal justice process.

"In addition to this, she was named on social media sites during the trial contrary to her legal entitlement.

"Any breach of this entitlement is and will be investigated."

"A rush to a conclusion"

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast, Stuart Olding's solicitor Paul Dougan said social media was a driver for a rush to a conclusion.

"The public gallery and the press benches were full each and every day.

"The journalists involved - many of whom household names, highly respected - and they were required to adhere to the rules and the orders and the directions, of which there were a number, given by the trial judge.

"Everybody on social media in this particular case saw themselves both as a reporter and as a social commentator.

"The comments of some people from the start of this trial - before the trial commenced, but certainly from its commencement - the comments, the postings, the views expressed by people who knew nothing about the case other than that which they read or the snippet that they read on social media: I must say I have never seen anything quite like it.

Ireland and Ulster rugby player Stuart Olding (left) and his solicitor Paul Dougan leave Belfast Crown Court after he was found not guilty of raping a woman at a property in June 2016 | Image: Brian Lawless/PA Wire/PA Images

"People from Australia commenting about a case, adding their tuppence worth when all they had done was to read a comment posted by somebody else - as opposed to people who obviously took the time to sit in the courtroom and to listen to the evidence and to see the demeanor of the witnesses and to appreciate all the various nuances.

"I have witnessed in the course of this case a rush to a conclusion that Stuart Olding and the other three defendants were guilty, until the contrary was proven - and social media was very much a driver for that".

Additional reporting: Jack Quann


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