Stuart Olding solicitor: No winners in Belfast rape trial
‘Lives have been irreparably affected on both sides . . . It is a salutary lesson for everybody’
Stuart Olding (centre) and his solicitor Paul Dougan (left) leave Belfast Crown Court on Wednesday after he was found not guilty. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Stuart Olding’s solicitor said there were no winners in the Belfast rape trial and the process took a toll on both sides.
Paul Dougan also claimed everyone on social media “saw themselves as a reporter and social commentator” during the case.
Rugby players Olding - Mr Dougan’s client - and Paddy Jackson were acquitted on Wednesday of raping a 19-year-old Belfast student.
Their friend Blane McIlroy was acquitted of exposing himself to the woman, and Rory Harrison was found not guilty of two counts of attempting to cover for his friends afterwards by misleading police and withholding information.
Mr Dougan told Newstalk Breakfast that in terms of police involvement, mistakes were made and that “some of our criticisms were very pointed”.
Mr Dougan said he agreed with criticisms of the prosecution made yesterday outside the court by Joe McVeigh, solicitor for Paddy Jackson.
“Yes, I do have concerns and criticism about the manner in which elements of this case were investigated.”
The defence had to take a certain line of questioning, he said because details were not properly recorded or followed through by the police in their investigation.
Mr Dougan said the issue of anonymity for defendants has been brought into clear focus.
“The defendants were photographed entering court, leaving court, with their families. There was wall-to-wall coverage with every detail being discussed and dissected, which added complexity to this case. Lessons must be learned,” he said.
“This makes a very strong case for anonymity for all parties particularly in cases of rape.”
Mr Dougan pointed out that days were lost in the case because of issues with the reporting of the case.
“The public gallery and the press benches were full each and every day. The journalists involved - many of whom household names, highly respected - were required to adhere to the rules and the orders and the directions, of which there were a number, given by the trial judge.
“Everybody on social media in this particular case saw themselves both as a reporter and as a social commentator,” Mr Dougan said.
“The comments of some people from the start of this trial . . . the comments, the postings, the views expressed by people who knew nothing about the case other than that which they read or the snippet that they read on social media, I must say I have never seen anything quite like it.
“People from Australia commenting about a case, adding their tuppence worth, when all they had done was to read a comment posted by somebody else - as opposed to people who obviously took the time to sit in the courtroom and to listen to the evidence and to see the demeanour of the witnesses and to appreciate all the various nuances,” he said.
“I have witnessed in the course of this case a rush to a conclusion that Stuart Olding and the other three defendants were guilty, until the contrary was proven - and social media was very much a driver for that.”
He said Olding, a rugby player with Ulster and Ireland will now await the result of a review by his employers IRFU, adding “the outcome of the process must be respected”.
Mr Dougan said he hoped Olding will be allowed to go back to the sport to which he has given so much and that means so much to him.
Speaking to RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke Mr Dougan said he had never been in any doubt about Olding’s innocence.
He said felt the public profile of Olding and Jackson as rugby players had been a feature of the case.
In his view their status as players and the degree of their public profile drove the manner in which the case was conducted and the coverage of the case. “That wouldn’t have happened in any other rape case.”
“Lives have been irreparably affected on both sides. The social commentary on this case will run and run. It is a salutary lesson for everybody.”
On the same programme retired judge Barry White said the case had become “a show trial” because of the profile of the two rugby players. The other two defendants would not have found themselves in the spotlight. The case attracted the attention from the public “because of who they were.”