For nearly nine weeks in Northern Ireland, a jury of eight men and three women struggled to understand what happened in Paddy Jackson’s bed in June 2016.
The plaintiff, 19 at the time, tells it this way: After a night out at a club in Belfast, she went to Jackson’s house. The pair went up to his bedroom and kissed briefly. Then they came back downstairs.
A while later, she returned to the room to grab her bag. At that point, she says, Jackson followed her and raped her. Another man, Stuart Olding, then forced her to perform oral sex, she said. Later, Blane McIlroy came into the room naked, demanding sex.
“I was handled like a piece of meat,” the woman told the jury. “There was not one bit of my body that they did not touch.”
Thirty-six hours later, she went to the police.
Jackson tells a different story. The professional rugby player was 24 years old at the time.
He acknowledged that he and the woman twice went up to his bedroom and that they kissed. But he denied that the pair had intercourse. And he said she consented to everything. Olding engaged in sexual activity with the woman, too, he said. But she had agreed to that as well.
“The last thing I want is a girl crying and leaving my house,” he said. “I had no idea she was upset.”
In court, Olding told a similar story, saying that he had gone upstairs to Jackson’s room not knowing anyone was there. When he opened the door, the woman told him to stay and performed oral sex. He also said that he had 23 drinks that night: eight cans of Carlsberg, four pints of Guinness, two gin and tonics, five vodka and lemonades, three shots and a beer from the fridge in Paddy Jackson’s house. He testified that he was “pretty drunk but still coherent.”
“If she had resisted in any way, I wouldn’t have carried on,” he said, according to the BBC.
McIlroy said he and the woman kissed briefly and engaged in some consensual activity. “I told the police everything,” he said. “The truth.”
Another team member took the woman home. He testified that she was upset in the car and that she texted him the next day to say what had happened was “not consensual.” She also texted another friend that day, writing: “worst night ever, so I got raped.”
For nearly nine weeks, the jurors listened. They even paid a visit to Jackson’s house.
Then they deliberated.
And in just about four hours, they made a decision. The men were not guilty, they said. Not of rape, not of lying to police, not even of indecent exposure. Judge Patricia Smyth called it “probably the most difficult trial that any jury in Northern Ireland has ever been asked to adjudicate on.”
Outside of the courtroom, though, many people came to a different conclusion. The case had captivated Belfast for months. After the decision was announced, the hashtag “#IBelieveHer” lit up social media. Online, people complained that the legal system was set up to favor men and that the ruling would discourage other victims from coming forward.
On Thursday, more than 1,000 people gathered on O’Connell Street in Dublin, chanting, “I believe her.”