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Friday, 02 March 2018

Crown completes evidence in prosecution of rugby players accused of rape

Written by Lesley-Anne McKeown

Prosecutors have concluded their case against two Ireland and Ulster rugby players accused of rape.

The Crown completed presenting evidence on day 24 of the high profile trial at Belfast Crown Court.

Paddy Jackson, 26, from Oakleigh Park in Belfast and his team mate Stuart Olding, 24, from Ardenlee Street in the city deny raping the same woman during the early hours of June 28 2016.

Jackson denies a further charge of sexual assault.

After hearing evidence from the senior detective in charge of the police investigation, prosecutor Toby Hedworth QC told the jury of eight men and three women: "That is the case on behalf of the prosecution."

Two other men are also on trial on charges connected with the alleged attack.

Blane McIlroy, 26, of Royal Lodge Road, Belfast denies one count of exposure while Rory Harrison, 25, from Manse Road in Belfast denies perverting the course of justice and withholding evidence.

The next stage of the trial will provide each of the defendants with an opportunity to "give evidence if they wish", Judge Patricia Smyth said.

They could also "call witnesses on their behalf", the judge added.

The final day of prosecution evidence was focused on police handling of the complex case.

The senior investigating officer (SIO) was quizzed about why she had not recorded being first told of the potential witness to the alleged rape, Dara Florence.

"I have no explanation as to why that is not included," the detective chief inspector said.

Brendan Kelly QC, defending Jackson, read an extract from the officer's notebook dated July 6 2016 in which she stated: "The potential significance of this eye witness account cannot be undervalued and may assist the prosecution and/or defence."

However, a second statement was not taken from Ms Florence until September, the court heard.

During cross examination by senior counsel for McIlroy, the SIO said CCTV footage from outside Ollies nightclub where the defendants and complainant had partied, was not recovered because of "human error".

Earlier, a detective constable who was in charge of the day-to-day running of the investigation was asked about apparent discrepancies in accounts provided by the complainant.

"Completely different" histories had been given to police and doctors, according to Frank O'Donoghue QC, representing Olding.

Questioned about her reaction to a medical report from the Rowan referral centre, the lawyer said: "Did you not say 'what in God's name is this?'"

The detective constable replied: "I do not think I would have said that, no."

However, later the officer conceded there had been "significant inconsistencies".

Mr O'Donoghue said: "Was it not apparent there were significant inconsistencies between what the complainant said to the Rowan (referral centre) and what she was telling the police?"

"Yes there were," the officer answered.

Differing or inconsistent accounts could be attributed to trauma, mistake or fragmented memory, the court was told.

Mr O'Donoghue added: "But of course there may be another less plausible reason and sometimes it is deemed necessary to ask the witness."

The complainant was not asked to take part in a third ABE (achieving best evidence) interview.

The officer said: "There was no decision made to take a further interview."

The detective constable, attached to the Police Service of Northern Ireland's (PSNI) rape crime unit, was further asked to explain why "crucial questions" were not put to the complainant.

The absence of such "important detail" was "crucial to the evaluation to ever put Mr Olding on trial", the barrister suggested.

The officer, who has 20 years' experience, replied: "She gave us the detail of what she had and the detail she could give at the time."

During the course of her first ABE interview, two days after the alleged rape, clarity was not sought about the oral sex allegation, it was suggested.

Mr O'Donoghue said: "In terms of the detail of the oral sex allegation, were there not a number of fairly obvious questions that could have been asked?"

The officer replied: "The object of the ABE interview is not about asking questions. It's about them giving their account.

"It's about them being comfortable and about them telling us what has happened in their own words."

There were also outstanding issues around when Olding left the room and how the woman's top and shoes came off, the barrister suggested.

Meanwhile, the court heard that while Olding was being questioned by police at a Belfast city centre station on June 30 2016, his house was searched without his knowledge.

Mr O'Donoghue said: "He came straight in and he was arrested and he was detained and his keys were taken off him.

"Mr Olding would say he was never told that his house was being searched. There's no evidence to prove that he was told."

A number of items of clothing were seized but not the blue shirt, trousers or brown shoes he had been wearing on the night of the alleged attack.

Mr O'Donoghue asked: "Was there ever a direction to get the shirt, to get the jeans, to get the shoes and to get the boxers?"

The officer answered: "Not to my knowledge."

She said investigators would have assessed the evidential value of having the items forensically tested, adding: "Clothing from Mr Olding wouldn't really be an issue given the fact that he had ejaculated on his stomach and his clothing is likely to be in that area."

As the case finished for the day, jurors were told not to attend Laganside Court on Friday because the judge had to deal with a "legal matter" and because of worsening weather conditions.

"We have discussed this matter. You will not be required to be here tomorrow," said Judge Smyth.

"I want to thank each of you for coming here today, regardless of the conditions.

"I appreciate your diligence. Please be careful not to discuss the evidence or issues with anyone or carry out research."

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