The so-called 'Belfast Rape Trial' led to widespread media coverage, social media comment and street protests. The nine-week case - from January to March 2018 - ended with the jury finding all four men who stood trial not guilty on all charges.
Programme maker Ronan Kelly writes about his week's Documentary On One, which revisits the controversial case - listen to Notes On A Belfast Rape Trial above.
It was her statement that struck me, "Rape is a game of power and control". It sounded like a clarion call to the #MeToo movement but it was spoken by a young woman on the witness stand in a courtroom in Belfast.
At the end of January, 2018, she was the most talked about young woman in Ireland. She had been to a house party at the home of Irish international rugby player, Paddy Jackson, and had left distressed.
"The last thing I want is a girl crying leaving my house" said Paddy Jackson, referring to the events at the house party. The young woman reported to the Northern Irish Police (PSNI) that she had been raped by Paddy Jackson and fellow Irish international rugby player, Stuart Olding.
The police brought charges and what followed was a trial that inserted itself into conversations around Ireland, both North and South, for months, in fact to this day - especially those relating to the issues surrounding sexual consent. Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding denied the charges.
The trial began at the end of January, 2018 and ran to the end of March, 2018. I attended because I wanted to get an insight into the trial - and because I am related to one of the Defence barristers, Brendan Kelly - he’s my cousin. He told me that, once the trial was over, he would speak about his work on it.
Notes From A Belfast Rape Trial is a difficult listen.
At the time we made that arrangement, neither he nor I knew that he was to become so pilloried for that work. He was vilified online for his cross-examination of the young woman - he was seen as having put excessive pressure on her in the witness stand. One person wrote on Twitter, "Hey Mr Kelly! The year 1700 called. It wants its understanding of consent back!"
Then there was the thong - the young woman’s underwear. It was part of police evidence proving, they said, that a violent rape had taken place. Brendan Kelly explains in the documentary why he introduced the clothing. He said that, if the Defence are going to make points about the prosecution evidence, in this case the clothing, and you don’t give the witness a chance to address your points, you will be criticised by the judge.
Although the trial ended on March 28, it’s still generating headlines. Ruth Coppinger TD mentioned it in the Dáil lately, when she produced a thong to make a point about the treatment of witnesses in rape trials.
And this week, the Gillen Review Panel in Northern Ireland, published a preliminary report recommending changes around serious sexual assault trials. Many of those changes are referred to in the documentary.
For example, the panel recommended excluding members of the public from rape trials (as is the case in the Republic). The panel argued that it’s difficult enough to testify in court about such intimate matters without having to do it in front of an audience. We spoke to members of the public who attended the Belfast rape trial. They included people who popped in to have a look during their lunch and even a woman with a young boy. But they also included people who had worked all their lives in the legal profession, like a retired judge as well as law students at the beginning of their careers.
Documentary On One: Notes From A Belfast Rape Trial is a difficult listen. You are put in the position of the jury - you have to listen to some quite graphic testimony but you also get a sense of why that jury decided - much to the anger of protestors - that they could not say, beyond reasonable doubt, that rape had taken place in Paddy Jackson’s house on that June night in 2016. The jury found all four men who stood trial relating to the Belfast Rape Trial not guilty on all charges.
Documentary On One: Notes From A Belfast Rape Trial , RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday November 24th at 2pm or online at https://www.rte.ie/radio1/doconone/2018/1117/1011596-notes-from-a-belfast-rape-trial/