Complainant in Belfast rape trial ‘upset and disappointed’ at verdict

Chief Supt said woman has not expressed any regrets about making the complaint

PSNI Detective Chief Superintendent Paula Hilman (left) paid tribute to the yuoung woman at the centre of the Belfast rape trial, following not guilty verdicts on wednesday. Photograph:  PA Wire

PSNI Detective Chief Superintendent Paula Hilman (left) paid tribute to the yuoung woman at the centre of the Belfast rape trial, following not guilty verdicts on wednesday. Photograph: PA Wire

 

The complainant in the Belfast rape trial is “upset and disappointed” in the verdict but does not regret making the complaint.

Following the acquittal of Ireland and Ulster players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding on Wednesday, Detective Chief Superintendent Paula Hilman said the woman, now 21 years old, is “upset and disappointed” with the verdict. She said she has not expressed any regrets about making the complaint.

DCS Hilman said: “I would like to pay tribute to the young woman who had the resolve and confidence to come forward and put her faith in police and the criminal justice process.”

The officer confirmed the woman had been named on social media sites during the trial in breach of her life-long legal entitlement to anonymity. “Any breach of this entitlement is and will be investigated.”

DCS Hilman said she was disappointed at a statement from Women’s Aid stating the trial will deter rape victims from coming forward. She said 20 people made rape complaints while the trial was ongoing, a higher than average number.

“We understand how difficult it can be for someone to report a rape, but let me assure you today that if you choose to speak to police, you will be listened to, respected, treated sensitively, have your report thoroughly investigated, and you will be signposted to support services such as Nexus and Victim Support among others,” the detective said.

“This case has provoked much comment and debate. While we respect today’s verdict it should not deter victims of serious sexual crime from contacting police.”

She also rejected an accusation from Mr Jackson’s solicitor Joe McVeigh that his client was prosecuted because of his status as an international rugby player.

“We carry out investigations regardless of standing or status,” DCS Hilman said.

“A dedicated and specialised team of police officers and staff from the Rape Crime Unit, led by Detective Chief Inspector Zoe McKee, all worked diligently on this case. I want to thank these officers and staff for their hard work and commitment.

“I would also like to acknowledge and thank the Public Prosecution Service for their professionalism and expertise throughout.

“As police officers our role is to keep people safe. Anyone can be the victim of sexual crime regardless of age, background, status or gender.

“There is no room in society for tolerance of sexual crime.”

Marianne O’Kane, Assistant Director of the Public Prosecution Service referred to “the courage and determination of the complainant” and her family throughout the proceedings.

In a statement, Ms O’Kane who is head head of the PPS serious crime unit which handles serious cases including all sexual offences, acknowledged the dedicated service of the jury over the last nine weeks and thanked them for their conscientious consideration of the evidence. “We respect the verdict that they have reached,” she said.

“The evidence received in this case was subjected to a very thorough and careful examination by a team of experienced lawyers including senior counsel before we concluded that the test for prosecution was met in line with our code for prosecutors.

“This meant that there was both sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction and it was in the public interest to prosecute,” she added.

“This case was properly put before the court and overcame a number of legal challenges. It was ultimately right that the matter was placed before a jury to make their determination.

“I extend our appreciation to her honour judge Patricia Smyth, to the many prosecution witnesses and to the prosecution team, led by Toby Hepworth QC who have all approached this case with great care.”

She also paid tribute to the PSNI.

“Most importantly I want to take a moment to recognise the courage and determination of the complainant and her family throughout these proceedings.

“There has been extensive media coverage of this case sometimes at a level which has been unprecedented in recent times. I hope that this has helped the public to better understand the criminal justice system and the trial process. I also hope that there will be a continuing conversation about societal attitudes in relation to sexual offences,” she said.

“Rape and other sexual assaults are devastating crimes and from our close daily contact with women and men who have been victims of sexual violence, we understand the impact upon them and their families,” she added.

She urged anyone who has been a victim of any offence to come forward and assured them they will be treated with sensitivity and respect throughout.