herald

Thursday 26 April 2018

Police quiz two after woman's name appears on social media

Paddy Jackson. Photo: PA
Paddy Jackson. Photo: PA

Two people have been questioned by police for allegedly revealing the identity of the complainant in the Belfast rape trial on social media.

Complainants in rape trials in Ireland and the UK are entitled to anonymity and it is an offence to publish their identity.

However, a feature of the trial of Ireland and Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding and two of their friends was that the complainant's name appeared in a number of social media posts.

A photograph purporting to be the woman was also widely distributed on online messaging services, such as WhatsApp.

A spokesman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) told the Herald that two people had been interviewed in relation to an offence under the Sexual Offences Amendment Act 1992, which prohibits the publication in any form of the identity of a rape complainant.

Hateful

He said two files had been forwarded to the North's Public Prosecutions Service for consideration.

Facebook and Twitter have said they are happy to assist the PSNI and An Garda Siochana in such cases and have provided information sought by both forces in the past.

Although the situation is not thought to have arisen south of the Border, where the public is excluded from rape trials, it has occurred in the UK before.

A number of people were fined for revealing online the identity of the complainant in the rape case involving Welsh footballer Ched Evans.

The development in the PSNI investigation emerged as a lawyer for Mr Olding suggested that police could also investigate social media postings that might be viewed as inciting hatred against the accused in the trial.

"If people abuse social media and public platforms and promulgate hateful or offensive or abusive messaging, where a criminal offence has been committed, then of course the police should investigate it," solicitor Paul Dougan told the Herald.

"If any of these defendants were on the receiving end of a tirade of abusive vitriol that crosses that line, then of course the police should investigate that as they would any other case."

It is not believed that the PSNI has received a complaint from any of the four accused.

One would be required for a criminal investigation to be launched.

Mr Dougan described the social media commentary in the trial as "unprecedented" for the North.

"It is the first time we have had to grapple with that as a major issue," he said.

"In this particular case it was front and centre.

"I don't think anyone appreciated the sheer extent of interest from start through to finish."

Conviction

Mr Dougan said there was merit in the system in the Republic, where the accused in a rape trial cannot be named prior to conviction, and then only if this does not tend to identify the victim.

He said the social media situation "might never have happened" if the case had been tried in the Republic as the accused parties would never have been named and the public would not have had access to the trial.

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