Thousands march ‘in support of complainant’ after Irish rugby players are cleared of rape

Campaigners say case will deter victims from coming forward

Jane Dalton
Sunday 01 April 2018 20:31
Thousands show solidarity with rape victims at rallies in Ireland

Thousands of people on both sides of the Irish border have joined a second day of street protests over the handling of a rape trial of two Ireland rugby internationals.

Demonstrations “in solidarity with the complainant” were held following the acquittal of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

The men were unanimously cleared on Wednesday of rape after a nine-week trial at Belfast Crown Court. The jury of eight men and three women had deliberated for three hours and 45 minutes.

The outcome has sparked rallies in cities across the island of Ireland, including Belfast, Dublin, Galway and Cork.

In Dublin more than 4,000 protesters – men, women and children – gathered outside City Hall yesterday. Some waved placards with the words “stand with survivors” and “overhaul the system” as they marched to the Irish Department of Justice.

In Belfast, several hundred demonstrators gathered outside City Hall in an event organised by the socialist feminist organisation Rosa.

Thousands joined a protest in Dublin over the way the trial was handled

There were chants of “two, four, six, eight, consent is not up for debate”, as well as “my black dress does not mean yes” and “whatever we wear, yes means yes and no means no”.

People also waved banners reading “#IBelieveHer” and “#MeToo”.

Ulster and Ireland rugby players Mr Jackson, 26, and Mr Olding, 25, had been accused of sexually assaulting a woman in June 2016 when they went back to Mr Jackson’s home after a night out in Belfast.

The woman claimed he had followed her into a bedroom, pushed her onto the bed and raped her. The accused said all sexual activity was consensual.

Mr Jackson was also found not guilty of sexual assault.

Two other men were also cleared in connection with the case. Blane McIlroy, 26, who was accused of exposure, and Rory Harrison, 25, who was charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding information, were found not guilty.

Although the complainant was seated behind a curtain to give evidence, she was in full view of the dock and the gallery as her statements were transmitted on a television screen.

It is illegal for the media to identify the complainant, but it was soon shared widely on social media.

Comments posted online by a juror are being investigated by Northern Ireland’s attorney general.

Two other people have been questioned by police in Northern Ireland in relation to identifying the complainant.

Colourful banners read ‘I stand with her’ – meaning the complainant

Women’s rights organisations warned of the effect of the trial on rape victims coming forward. While accepting the court’s verdict, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre wrote: “Those who report in cases where the defence claims the sex was consensual will be afraid of the treatment they may receive in court. And yet, if complainants don’t report, rapists will not be brought to justice.”

The high-profile trial also prompted calls from Mr Jackson’s defence solicitor for a crackdown on social media comment during criminal proceedings. It has also renewed the debate on whether defendants in rape trials should also be entitled to anonymity, with their names being revealed only if they are convicted.

On Thursday, Mr Jackson’s legal team said defamation proceedings were being launched against Irish senator Aodhan O’Riordain over social media comments he made about the acquittal.

The Twitter post was subsequently deleted.

Additional reporting by PA