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April, 2018 I



Rape trial an earthquake in Jackson’s stellar life Lesley-Anne McKeown IT is a little more than 10 years since Paddy Jackson experienced his first taste of triumph. As a schoolboy he was hailed for heroic efforts in winning the coveted Ulster School’s Cup on March 17, 2008. Since then, there have been many moments to savour – not least stepping out in green for the first time at Murrayfield in 2013. But the baby-faced fly half, one of rugby’s most promising rising stars, is not likely to have experienced any greater high than the moment he walked from Belfast Crown Court, a free man. Flanked by family and friends who supported him every day of the nine-week trial, Jackson strode with a renewed sense of pride, as if he had just kicked a Rugby World Cup winner. Pundits have previously praised his determination, self preservation and ability to bounce back – qualities that were tested during those long, arduous days in the dock and which will sustain him as he attempts to rebuild his stalled career, and his life. Born David Patrick Lindsay James Jackson in Lisburn, Co Antrim on January 5, 1992, he marked his 26th birthday just weeks before the case opened. He has a younger sister and an older brother. His family lived in Birmingham for a time but returned to Belfast while Paddy was still of primary school age. He played mini rugby for Belfast

Harlequins, a club based in the affluent Malone Road area in the south of the city from the age of eight or nine. But it was at the prestigious Methodist College (Methody) where Jackson’s talent for rugby was really nurtured. And after that stellar Schools Cup performance when he helped Methody trounce their opponents 36-nil, he was invited to join the rugby elite. Having left school at the age of 18 with three A-level grades B, C and D he had plenty of choices but followed his passion and took a place at the Ulster Academy. Recognised as an impressive and quick-thinking player, Jackson made his senior debut for Ulster in 2011, while still a teenager. A year later, aged just 20 and with only a handful of games under his belt, he found himself centre stage at the Heineken Cup final at Twickenham. He now has 25 Ireland caps. Off the pitch Paddy Jackson is also hugely popular. He has more than 40,000 followers on Twitter and a further 57,000 people follow his posts on Instagram. A cursory scroll through his social media highlights the lifestyle he has enjoyed – promoting fancy cars, designer clothes and even, free food. On the night of the alleged rape, June 28, 2016, he had been partying in the VIP section of Ollie’s – a nightclub in the basement of Belfast’s five-star Merchant Hotel. Also present in the exclusive members’ lounge were Northern Ireland footballers, fresh from their success at the European Cham-

Paddy Jackson outside Belfast’s Laganside Courthouse following his acquittal. Picture: Niall Carson pionships. Jackson was in his element socialising with other local sporting heroes. He had been one of the happiest men in Belfast at the time and CCTV footage shows he was comfortable posing for pictures and speaking to those who approached him. Jackson traded on his squeaky clean image – fronting charity campaigns for Mencap and Action Cancer. Yet he has found himself in hot water including when blacked-up images of him wearing a slave costume were posted to his Twitter account.


Jury takes less than four hours to acquit Lesley-Anne McKeown

IRELAND rugby internationals Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have been acquitted of rape. They were found not guilty after a nine-week trial at Belfast Crown Court. Speaking afterwards Jackson, who was also acquitted of sexual assault, thanked the judge and jury for giving him a fair trial. In a statement read by his solicitor, team mate Stuart Olding expressed regret about the events of the night in question, even though he had not committed any criminal offence. Both men stated a desire to get back playing rugby for Ireland and Ulster as soon as possible. The high profile trial was one of the longest heard in Belfast and generated an unprecedented level of attention across Ireland. Police and prosecutors have defended their handling of the case in the wake of scathing criticism from Jackson’s legal team who suggested the decision to press ahead was driven by his celebrity status. According to the PSNI the complainant was upset and disappointed with the outcome of the trial but did not regret reporting the matter. The rugby players had consistently denied raping the same woman during an after party at Jackson’s home in the early hours of June 28, 2016. The jur y of eight men and three women returned its unanimous verdict after deliberating for three hours and

Marianne O’Kane from the Public Prosecution Service has defended the decison to charge the men.

45 minutes. Two other men charged in connection with the alleged attack were also found not guilty. Blane McIlroy, 26, was acquitted of exposure while Rory Harrison, 25, was found not guilty of perverting the course of justice and withholding information. In brief comments outside the court, Jackson, who was flanked by family and friends, said: “I’d just like to thank the judge and the jury for giving me a fair trial, my parents for being here every day, as well as my brother and sisters.” Jackson also thanked his barristers and solicitors. He declined to comment further. Defence solicitor Joe McVeigh said Jackson was leaving the court as he had entered it almost 10 weeks ago – “an innocent man”. The lawyer said the decision to prosecute had been driven by his status as a famous spor tsman, and that

Jackson’s main priority now is to return to the rugby pitch to represent his province and country. Meanwhile, in a statement read by his solicitor Paul Dougan, Olding said: “I want to acknowledge publicly that though I committed no criminal offence ... I regret deeply the events of that evening. I want to acknowledge that the complainant came to court and gave evidence about her perception of those events. I am sorry for the hurt that was caused to the complainant.” Meanwhile, Jackson’s solicitor Mr M c Ve i g h a l s o r e f e r r e d t o v i l e commentary on social media, which he said “polluted the sphere of public discourse and raised concerns about the integrity of the trial process”. “To that end we want to thank the learned trial Judge Patricia Smyth for her management of this trial in the face of an onslaught of toxic contempt, particularly on Twitter. All the lawyers have been distracted by having to man the barriers against the flood of misinformed ... and malicious content on the internet,” Mr McVeigh said. Marianne O’Kane, assistant director and head of the Public Prosecution Service’s serious crime unit, said it was “ultimately right” that the case had been brought to trial. Detective Chief Superintendent Paula Hilman, head of the public protection branch at the Police Service of Nor thern Ireland (PSNI), said: “While we respect today’s verdict it should not deter victims of serious sexual crime from contacting police.”

The court heard that Jackson cites some of rugby’s biggest names, including Ireland captain Rory Best, as close personal friends. He even babysat Best’s children and was invited to his son’s sixth birthday party. Ulster and Ireland players Craig Gilroy and Iain Henderson are also among his pals. Co-accused Stuart Olding was described as a “very close friend” having clicked with him when they met at the Ulster Academy. He went to school with Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison, who also faced charges. Witnesses, including his brother’s

partner Eimer Murray and another doctor friend Katie Donaldson, gave evidence on his behalf saying he was polite, passive and a gentleman. Throughout the trial Jackson has enjoyed the unwavering support of his parents. Twice a day they walked him through the bank of photographers posted outside the court and sat in the front row of the packed public gallery. Whatever the future holds Jackson knows he can depend on those who matter the most – those family and friends who stood with him through the worst of times.


Jackson sues senator over post-trial social media post David Young and Lesley Anne McKeown

PADDY Jackson has launched a defamation action against an Irish senator for social media comments he posted about the rugby international’s rape acquittal. Jackson’s lawyers, KRW Law, have issued an intention to sue Labour party senator Aodhán Ó Riordáin. The action relates to a tweet Mr Ó Riordáin posted about the trial shortly after Jackson, club and country teammate Stuart Olding and two friends were unanimously acquitted of all charges linked to the case. The tweet was subsequently deleted. The legal action was confirmed on a day that witnessed a number of postverdict developments. It has also emerged that online comments posted by a juror in the rugby rape trial are being investigated by Nor ther n Ireland’s Attorney General. Two other people have been questioned by police in the North in relation to naming the complainant in the case online. Meanwhile, a number of media outlets are challenging repor ting restrictions still placed on the case. Jackson’s lawyers said he had no option other than to resort to the civil courts to seek protective action in response to the senator’s tweet. “I can confirm we have issued pre-action libel correspondence against a named senator in the Republic of Ireland,” Marie Hans, senior associate at KRW Law, said. “The legal action relates to a tweet sent to a number of other persons before it was eventually taken down.” She said the legal team “will not

A march of solidarity with the complainant in the Belfast rape trial was held in Dublin.

hesitate to repeat similar legal action” against other individuals. “We are examining carefully every item of social media commentary which seeks to challenge the integrity of the jury’s full endorsement of our client’s innocence,” Ms Hans said. Earlier, a spokesman for Attorney General John Larkin confirmed that the comments posted by a juror had been referred to his office by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan. Mr Larkin is to investigate whether the comments represent a breach of contempt of court laws. Jurors are not permitted to disclose details of their deliberations in any trial. The jurors’s remarks, written underneath a report on the case on the website Broadsheet. ie, appeared hours after the unanimous not guilty verdicts were delivered. Meanwhile, at least a thousand people rallied in Dublin in solidarity with the woman in the Belfast rape trial. The hashtag #IBelieveHer is trending on social media.

Irish Echo April 2018  

Irish Echo - Australia's Irish Newspaper Digital Edition Vol 31, No4 - Apr 2018

Irish Echo April 2018  

Irish Echo - Australia's Irish Newspaper Digital Edition Vol 31, No4 - Apr 2018