The full story of the midlands rape trial: ‘There was one of me. There was five of them’

‘Are you looking for a lift home?’ She went over to the car. She got in. Split. Second. Decision.

This is the story of what happened to one young woman one night in a very ordinary Irish town, the story of what should have been an enjoyable, if unremarkable night out – a night of fun and laughter, of meeting boys, of having a bit of a dance, of having a few drinks. A night remembered only for later Instagram, Snapchat or Facebook images.

A night like dozens before. But it was not for the young woman, referred to as “She” throughout reports of the later rape trial by rules designed to protect her, to allow her some of the dignity stripped from her.

This is the story of She. She was 17 years old when it happened in Tullamore on St Stephen’s Night, 2016, five months before the Leaving Cert. Seventeen – a threshold age of discovery and of self-exploration, of growing confidence, of standing on the precipice with everything ahead. Some of her friends were already in college – the ones that skipped Transition Year and got ahead by a year.

She loved her friends, especially the ones from school. She loved having a laugh with them. The night out was going to be a good catch-up . After eating some left-over Christmas dinner at home, her mum dropped her to a friend’s house at half-seven.

Two other friends were there, too. The four had a few drinks – Orchard Thieves – and took Snapchat photos. One was still in her pyjamas. The girls “gassed away”, put on the make-up, tried to sort out a dress. Hadn’t it shrunk in the wash and didn’t she take a scissors to it and made a right mess of it, she remembered.

Anyway. They chatted for about two hours before heading into Tullamore – driven by one of their mothers. They wanted to be in by 10 because of the queues, you know? There was one outside the Copper Pot on High Street, but they did not wait long to get in. There, they went into the beer garden. They lingered, and had a drink (hers was a Vodka and Red Bull). One of her pals had snuck in a naggin of vodka and the pair of them went off to the ladies, and into a cubicle.

She put her phone on the cistern lid but didn’t it slip off and into the loo? She fished it out quickly, but not before it was damaged. It would switch itself off every time she restarted it, she later told the trial of the men accused of raping her. It’s banjaxed, she decided. Later, the touch screen would respond to some commands and not others. A friend put it into a bowl of rice and it worked okay again. But only for a few moments.

Anyway. They went back inside and someone bought her a Mickey Finn. They left the Copper Pot soon after – she and four girls – and went to the Palace Nightclub, part of the Bridge House Hotel on Bridge Street. There was a queue there, too, a bit longer than elsewhere, but it did not matter. They went in anyway.

They danced first and then went upstairs, where she met another girl pal. They had a drink together – vodka and 7Up. Then she met a male pal who bought her a tequila shot. Someone had won €100 somewhere and bought her a shot too.

Nightclub closed

When the Palace closed at 2.30, she left with a fellow, a good pal from school. He was a fellow who, as she would put it later, got on “fierce well with my mother”. They went to Supermac’s and saw two other girls.

The girls wanted to get a kebab at Alkababish on Columcille Street, but she wanted a spice bag from Apache Pizza on Kilbride street.

A car pulled up. A girl inside said she was looking for cigarettes. One of her friends gave all the smokes she had. Your man, the tequila fellow, invited her to a named fellow’s place for some drinks. She had some idea where it was.

She got in touch with one of the other girls, said she was with tequila man and was heading off to the other fellow’s house for a drink. Tequila man gave her his jacket – hadn’t she left her own, the leather one, in the pub?

She changed her mind about going to the house for a jar, though, gave your man his jacket back and went over to Mac’s Cabs. She’d go back to her pal’s house – the one where the evening began... all those hours ago... and bunk down there. Mac’s was packed to the gills but she got inside and chatted to two brothers she knew. But there was no sign of that taxi. She began to fear they had forgotten her.

Plenty of others had been in the Palace, including Eduardo Dias Ferreira Filho, Gabriel Gomes Da Rocha, Ethan Nikolaou and Conor Byrne. They, too, left at about 2.30am. They were picked up by their pal Marcus – Marcus Vicius De Silva Umbelino (17) – in his father’s borrowed car.

Alloy wheels

He had travelled from Kilbeggan where he and several of the others lived. The car was quite cool, in their eyes – a VW Passat lowered at the front, tinted windows, alloy wheels and fog lamps. De Silva Umbelino’s family came originally from Brazil but had lived in Offaly for years.

Beside him in the front seat was 19-year-old Gabriel, known to all as Gabby. Ethan sat immediately to the rear of Gabby; Conor (18) sat in the middle, and behind Marcus himself was Eduardo (19) – known to them as Eddie.

Like Marcus, Gabby’s people were originally from Brazil; same for Eddie. Marcus and Eddie lived in the same apartment complex in Kilbeggan. Ethan’s background was Greek Cypriot but he’d lived in Ireland for all of his 18 years.

His family were from Brosna Park, Kilbeggan. Conor Byrne lived in Moate, Westmeath. The blue Passat did laps of the town, with the young men leaning out the windows, leering at passers-by, calling out at times. In a single hour, they passed the Palace/Bridge House 15 times. Even at 4am, Tullamore was still busy.

Close to 4am and after waiting for 20 minutes, “She” gave up on Mac’s Taxi, deciding to walk back to her pal’s house where the evening began. It was only a short walk – 20 minutes max. The end of a long night but she felt “grand”. She had had a few drinks, for sure, but she had her wits about her. Or so she thought. She began walking.

In no time at all, a car stopped and someone inside called out her name. She did not know the occupants, and they didn’t really know her either. Maybe they saw her at the Palace? Or was it on social media? Tinder maybe? Ethan called her name. “Are you looking for a lift home?” She went over to the car. A rear door opened. She got in. Split. Second. Decision. It was just past 4am.

She squeezed into the back beside Ethan, Conor and Eddie – and the car moved off. There’s guards around, said someone. You’d better lie cross us and stay low. It’s Stephens’s Night, they said. Don’t want to get stopped.

And so she lay across the three of them, hoping no guards would see the car, with six inside and thinking to themselves, better have a look at this one – 4am, car jammers and all that. She heard some of them speaking a different language. Portuguese, she thought.

Disused harbour

One offered a cigarette. She told them where she wanted to go. She wanted to go to Clonminch, 3km max away. They said they would take her there. They went through a roundabout. Instead of going on to Clonminch, however, they headed north on the far side of Tullamore, towards Kilbeggan and its old, disused harbour at the end of a tributary of the Grand Canal. But her ordeal had started long before they got there.

Lying across them in the back seat, hands began coming from everywhere. They groped her. They pawed her. Hand reached up under her top. Into her knickers. They were fingering her. Stroking her. Stroking themselves. She didn’t want this. She didn’t ask for this. She didn’t consent to this. At all. She started getting upset; tears in her eyes. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!?!?!?!?” She said to no one and to everyone.

She tried to push their hands away. In a mad panic to escape, she scrambled from the back seat, through the gap between the front seats, into the front passenger seat and found herself sitting on Gabby’s lap. By now they had driven through another roundabout.

“My tone of voice was quite assertive... I don’t think it was wrong of me not to scream out. I don’t think is was unreasonable of me not to scream out”

The lads were talking among themselves, arguing about where they were going. Gabby started sliding his hands up her knickers, fingering her. She told him to stop. Someone in the back reached over and tried to do the same. They were still arguing, talking about her, as though she was not there.

“Ah lads, she’s good,” said one. “We’re getting it all tonight!” Six years later, in the cold, antiseptic setting of a Croke Park corporate entertainment room turned temporarily into the Central Criminal Court and filled with the accused, their families, and a phalanx of lawyers in gowns, she was asked: “What did they mean by that?” They wanted to do stuff, she replied. To who? “To me.” The stuff was multiple rape – oral and vaginal – and multiple other sexual assaults.

Over and over again inside the car, at the disused harbour and on the edge of Kilbeggan carpark.

Her mind went into autopilot. She felt paralysed, inanimate – like she was having an out-of-body experience: she could see herself, could see what they were doing to her as they did it to her, but she could not stop them.

Camera phone

At one stage, a camera phone filmed her being raped. She told them to stop. She was crying. “Are you a virgin or what,” asked one, as if that might somehow explain why she was distraught. By the time they were finished, there was semen everywhere – in her, on her, on them and in the car.

“Why didn’t you escape?” she was asked later in court. A slender woman of average height, she gave her evidence in a collected manner while all the time skirting the edge of a memory abyss. Why didn’t she escape?

Sounding calm, if slightly incredulous, she replied: “There was one of me. There was five of them. It was very intimidating.” The accused – four of them, excluding Conor Byrne who pleaded guilty at the 11th hour, were on trial – all felt they engaged in consensual sex, said their lawyers.

“I repeatedly told people to stop,” she said firmly to the barristers and without raising her voice. But she didn’t scream, she wasn’t threatened, it was pointed out to her. “I felt under threat. I certainly felt under threat,” she said.

“My tone of voice was quite assertive... I don’t think it was wrong of me not to scream out. I don’t think is was unreasonable of me not to scream out.” The finer nuances of consent were examined. The mechanics of kissing were explored shortly afterwards.

She escaped when they eventually freed her at a carpark and she ran, crying, distraught, hysterical to a friend’s house. The guards came and brought her to the Sexual Assault Treatment Unit (Satu) at Mullingar Hospital where she got medical attention and the guards got their forensics.

Her parents came and embraced her with their love and understanding, but it was weeks before she could return home, staying instead with a friend, nursing her wounds. The guards acted fast: they raided homes and questioned the five, initially that morning and many times again over succeeding days and weeks.

Graphic description

In recorded interviews, they lied but incriminated themselves and each other. So, too, did the earlier text messages celebrating a great night out. Conor Byrne had messaged a friend of all five just after 6am. Byrne, describing the night graphically.

However, gardai were unable to track down any videos. On Thursday of this week, the five received lengthy jail terms, four of them having been found guilty by a jury. Marcus Vicius De Silva Umbelino – Marcus – got 15 years. Eduardo Dias Ferreira Filho Filho – Eddie – received 18 years; Gabriel Gomes Da Rocha – Gabby – got 20 years, while Ethan Nikolaou got seven years. The final year of all these sentences was suspended.

“You give me no reason to address you. All of you have made me feel like I wasn’t even a human being. It is you who are sub-human... how could you take pleasure in doing something so horrific to another person?”

The fifth man, Conor Byrne, who pled guilty, got 12 years, with the final two suspended. Her last act at their trial was to read her 2,000-word-long victim impact statement from the witness box of Dublin’s Central Criminal Court last Monday. It took her more than an hour.

During it, she displayed different emotions. Often calm and measured, she was distraught, however, when telling of the damage inflicted on her family. She was understanding (generous, even) to the defence lawyers – “Although they all had a job to do, they left me with my dignity,” she said.

She was angry toward her defilers. They had made her feel subhuman, a dishevelled person prone to self-harm, wondering whether she could ever be good enough for the people she loves, she said. She spoke directly to her attackers.

“Conor Byrne,” she said, “you have done by me really wrong. I will never be the same person after what you and your friends did... the night before I was due to give my evidence, you did the right thing: you wrote me an apology letter.

“I didn’t feel anything [after reading it but] I do believe, after all this time, the best way to move on is to forgive. Don’t let this be the defining moment of your life; prove to others you have learned and become a better person.”

To the other four, she said: “You give me no reason to address you. All of you have made me feel like I wasn’t even a human being. It is you who are sub-human... how could you take pleasure in doing something so horrific to another person?

“The part that really gets me, is that four of you have shown absolutely no remorse for what you have done.” Using her own name, she said: “I am [She] who was raped and sexually assaulted... I am 23 years old, a rape survivor who if I could go back in time would say to my 17-year-old self: ‘don’t get into that car, it will change your life immensely’.”

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