Cleared ex-Ireland and Ulster rugby player attempts to retrieve legal costs
A former Ireland and Ulster rugby player lost the opportunity to follow his profession in his own country due to “ineptitude” by Northern Ireland’s Prosecution Service, Belfast Crown Court has heard.
Stuart Olding, 25, and his former team-mate Paddy Jackson, 26, were found unanimously not guilty in March of raping a woman at a house party in June 2016.
On Friday, Belfast Crown Court heard Mr Olding’s lawyer make a case for the retrieval of his client’s legal costs from the trial on the basis that the prosecution’s case had been “flawed”.
Mr Olding was granted legal aid halfway through the 10-week trial.
Frank O’Donoghue QC, counsel for Mr Olding, said his client had to “exhaust his own personal finances to access legal aid” and suffered “huge financial detriment”.
He referred to the “enormity” of the decision of the PPS to prosecute Mr Olding, someone who had a public profile, and described the effect it had had on his life.
“His reputation was destroyed to the point where he could not follow his profession in this country again,” Mr O’Donoghue told the court.
The IRFU and Ulster ended the contracts of Mr Olding and Mr Jackson in April.
Mr Olding is currently playing for Brive in the second tier of French rugby.
Mr O’Donoghue said his client has had to leave his family and friends and start again in another country.
“He had to go and seek his work elsewhere … this has had a huge impact upon him,” he said.
Mr O’Donoghue described the trial as having been “unprecedented” not only in Northern Ireland, but also in the UK and Republic of Ireland.
After the trial concluded, retired appeal court judge Sir John Gillen was tasked with leading an independent review into how the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland deals with serious sexual offence cases.
Mr O’Donoghue told the court on Friday: “It (the trial) has thrown up issues that justified a full-blown review of how these trials are conducted.”
He presented a detailed argument to court for Mr Olding to retrieve his costs.
This included a claim of ineptitude against Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in bringing Mr Olding to court.
Mr O’Donoghue claimed the prosecution had a “flawed understanding of the facts”.
“The police got it wrong, and with respect, the prosecution got it wrong,” he told the court.
“Mr Olding lost the chance that he is entitled to, to have his case properly considered.”
Mr O’Donoghue referred to evidence given during the trial by witness Dara Florence.
“The strength of Dara Florence’s evidence was such that it must have been apparent to everyone, how could anyone possibly convict Stuart Olding in light of the evidence of Dara Florence,” he said.
“How could anyone be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt on that evidence.”
Mr O’Donoghue told the court it was “entirely foreseeable” that the case against his client would fail.
He also described Mr Olding’s behaviour as exemplary.
“His level of co-operation was 100%, he wasn’t the author of his own misfortune,” he said.
The hearing about costs was held in front of Judge Patricia Smyth, who oversaw the trial.
Judge Smyth said: “This is a complex legal issue and that means whatever decision I reach has to be made with proper consideration.”
Mr Olding did not attend the hearing on Friday, which was adjourned after two hours.
It is set to resume on October 26 when counsel for the PPS will respond.
Mr Jackson has also applied for legal costs.
His legal team made its case to Belfast Crown Court in May.
A ruling has not yet been made on that application.