We all have the right to innocence until it’s absolutely proven otherwise.
Today at Laganside Crown Court, Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison were cleared of all charges against them.
After 3 hours and 45 minutes of deliberation this morning, the jury reached a unanimous verdict on all counts.
Jackson (26), from Oakleigh Park, was found not guilty of rape and was found not guilty of sexual assault.
Olding (25), from Ardenlee Street, was found not guilty of rape.
McIlory (25), of Royal Lodge Road, was found not guilty of exposure.
Harrison (25), of Manse Road, was found not guilty of perverting the course of justice and not guilty of withholding information.
After nine weeks, the jury was discharged for life and told by Judge Patricia Smyth that they had sat on what is probably the most difficult trial a jury in Northern Ireland has ever had to sit on.
And just like that, it’s over.
The result of the trial has prompted a huge response on social media, with many expressing shock and upset.
#IBelieveHer trended on Twitter in Ireland this afternoon. It shows how deeply this case resonated with the public and it’s heartening to see such a show of support for a woman who beared her soul and didn’t get the outcome she wanted, or maybe needed.
— A⚡h (@aisghair) March 28, 2018
“Why don’t people report? They’d report if it were true.” Here’s why. #IBelieveHer
— Tara Flynn (@TaraFlynn) March 28, 2018
Anyone pontificating about calm reactions is seriously underestimating the fear people live with not only of rape but that reporting rape will destroy your life, that no matter what you do it will be decided it was your fault or that it didn’t happen #ibelieveher
— Kate McEvoy (@ImKateMc) March 28, 2018
We all read the whatsapps #IBelieveHer
— Hazel Nolan (@hazelnolan) March 28, 2018
But for now, it’s done. The fact remains that it wasn’t proven beyond all reasonable doubt that the complainant did not consent to what happened on that night in June 2016.
The case has closed and well-meaning as it is, the hashtag won’t change anything. But there are a number of things we can all take away from the past nine weeks.
Lessons to be learned
Number one; consent is a conversation. It’s not a mood killer to check that the person you’re with is into what you’re doing, and that goes for men and women.
It should go without saying that the onus should never fall on victims to stop themselves from being raped. You cannot control another person’s actions. The only responsibility is on people not to rape and, crucially, not to assume.
We’ve also learned that Whatsapp culture can be toxic. The men in Belfast were found not guilty of crimes, but the upsetting things written in a group they were members of have cast them in a grim light.
We need to understand that the things we write anywhere on the internet matter – and that includes in ‘private’ conversations. The best way to avoid coming across as a pig with your words? Don’t say them.
Finally, if something ever happens to you, make sure you get the care you need.
Then, tell someone.
It’s desperately unfair that you’ve been through something horrible and that it’s on you to do something about it, but tell someone and keep talking about it.
We can’t underestimate how traumatising, how emotionally draining, coming forward is but chase it. Give them hell.
Know that you’re in the right and hold onto that through the darkness, and we’ll all stand behind you and believe you.
Here are a number of organisations that offer support to victims of sexual assault.
Rape Crisis Network Ireland: 091 563676
A guide to the legal process for survivors of sexual violence via Rape Crisis here
Dublin Rape Crisis Centre: 1800 77 8888
Domestic and Sexual Violence Helpline Northern Ireland: 0808 802 1414
One In Four: (01) 6624070
Sexual Assault Treatment Units: via the HSE here