The moment the NOT GUILTY verdict was announced in the Belfast trial 1 year ago

The moment the NOT GUILTY verdict was announced in the Belfast trial

NOT GUILTY. NOT GUILTY. NOT GUILTY. NOT GUILTY. NOT GUILTY. NOT GUILTY.

Six times it rang out in courtroom 12. The jury reached their unanimous verdict. With each count there was a cry from the families, low and guttural they broke the silence of the room.

The four men stood facing the judge as the jury forewoman read out their fates. They did not move as each of their futures was decided with the two words - not guilty.

There had been no warning that this would be the moment it would happen. Three hours and 45 minutes to decide the verdict of an eight-week trial.

Harrison’s father leaned forward in his seat and cried as his son was acquitted.

This was the first time he showed any emotion during the trial. His daughter reached around and clasped his hand. Her smile stretched across her whole face.

Jackson’s mother and sister were weeping quietly, holding each other and watching their Paddy leave the dock, innocent of rape, innocent of sexual assault.

“You are free to go.” The words from Judge Patricia Smyth were lost in the weight of the acquittal.

As the men walked from the cloistered dock into the public gallery, Paddy Jackson’s father was waiting.

A tall and imposing man, who has worn a black pinstripe suit every day of this trial, he extended his hand to Rory Harrison, then Blane McIIroy. His Paddy, Paddy Jackson was last in the line and like at the end of a match, he shook his youngest son’s right hand and pulled him to his arms.

With bleary eyes, Jackson’s mother who has been in court every single day watched on.

The court emptied quickly as the families followed their sons into the corridor.

A huddle of Harrison women quickly linked arms and cried, “It’s over. It’s over”.

Phone calls were made immediately to those that couldn’t be in the courtroom. “Acquitted…Not Guilty… All of them”. The words came from every side as barristers and families hugged and kissed.

The female members of Jackson’s and Blane McIlroy’s legal team were in tears.

But in all of the celebrations there was someone missing. Stuart MacCauley Olding. Alone in the dock he remained until the jury formally declared him not guilty of vaginal rape.

A charge that the prosecution had made against him but later dropped.

It was a formality but one that had to be done. The jury never heard any evidence relating to the count and the judge directed the jury to return a verdict of not guilty as only a jury has this power.

The last figure to leave the dock, Olding turned to find his family.

McIIroy and Harrison who had come back into the court to see their friend be formally acquitted of the charge turned to each other. “Fucking hell,” said McIlroy, patting Harrison on the stomach, a smile on his face.

And back to the corridor again, where every man and his family hugged, a great cloud of terror which had been sitting on Courtroom 12 was lifted.

And in all of this, she was unheard and unseen since the final day she gave evidence.

Her presence, though, was visceral in the courtroom every day of the trial, including today.

Just before the jury filed in, a ringing phone was heard by all over the loudspeakers.

Once the phone was picked up everyone knew she was listening. In a witness room she was there too, waiting to hear the verdict, the result of her allegation.

A police officer who spoke to the complainant after the verdict said she was “understandably upset and disappointed at the result”.

The four friends left the courthouse separately. Blane McIIroy exited first and did not look back.

Rory Harrison and his family decamped to the Hilton hotel where they took over the bar.

But straight into a media scrum walked Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, the two public figures of this trial who less than an hour previous faced charges of rape.

To hordes of cameras and microphones, Jackson held his prewritten statement in his left hand and expressed his thanks to his parents, siblings and legal team.

His tone was even, his face unexpressive but as he stepped back and allowed his solicitor to take over, Jackson's sister reached for his arm. She held her older brother for the duration of the solicitor's statement. Paddy Jackson's knuckles went white with the pressure of his grip as he listened to his solicitor berate the police, the Public Prosecution Service and social media.

Stuart Olding remained in the courthouse the longest. His parents left first, his father limping on a crutch, his mother looking back again and again to the scores of media waiting for her son.

In the middle of the crowd she might have just glimpsed the placards from protestors outside the courtroom. Each one held high by two women outside the black gates of the building.

When Stuart Olding came out he said nothing, allowing his solicitor to act as his mouthpiece. And on a sunny spring day in Belfast, he had the last word:

I am sorry for the hurt that was caused to the complainant.

It was never my intention to cause any upset to anyone on that night. 

I don’t agree with her perception of events and I maintain that everything that happened that evening was consensual.

The trial has finished.