Northern Ireland

Naomi Long tweet disrupted rugby rape trial

Alliance party leader Naomi Long Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Proceedings were delayed and the court cleared as Naomi Long's tweet was discussed at Belfast Crown Court

It has emerged that a tweet by the leader of the Alliance Party disrupted a trial involving Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

The pair were found not guilty of rape in March.

On the final week of the nine-week trial, Mr Olding's barrister asked Judge Patricia Smyth to consider discharging the jury as a result of the post.

The trial was halted as she took time to consider the request.

Reporting restrictions imposed on the case prevented the development being reported at the time.

Those restrictions were lifted on Wednesday afternoon.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were acquitted of all charges against them

The tweet, by Naomi Long, criticised Frank O'Donoghue QC for remarks he made in court concerning the alleged victim.

He said: "Why didn't she scream? A lot of very middle-class girls were downstairs, they were not going to tolerate a rape or anything like that.

"Why didn't she scream the house down?"

On Twitter, Naomi Long described the comments as appalling: "I genuinely have no words for how atrocious this statement is," she posted.

"Middle-class girls? What? Because 'working-class girls' wouldn't care/don't matter/think rape is normal?

"What is the implication of that comment even meant to be? Appalling at every level."

The comment was re-tweeted 36 times and received 277 likes, the court was told.

'Substantial risk of prejudice'

After the tweet was published, the barrister told the court: "The trial is on a knife edge. The jury is just about to go out to consider its verdicts.

"The timing of Ms Long's opinion on social media could not be more unfortunate, to put it mildly."

He added: "Ms Long's intervention is such as to create a substantial risk of prejudice.

"That this cannot be cured. And that, regrettably, this jury shall now have to be stood down and discharged."

The case was held up for an hour. In the end, the judge rejected the application for the jury to be discharged and the case continued.

Two days later, Ireland and Ulster fly-half Paddy Jackson, 26, and team mate Stuart Olding, 25, were unanimously acquitted of all charges against them.

'Arguments rejected'

An Alliance Party spokesperson said: ""We are always conscious of our responsibilities when making any comment related to live court proceedings and exercise great care to avoid any remarks which could be construed as prejudicial.

"The tweets related to a comment from a counsel's closing address regarding class and not evidence before the court, were entirely unrelated to and made no reference or inference whatsoever to the guilt or innocence of those on trial.

"Legal contentions alleging prejudice in the context of various remarks on social media were put before the trial judge and after careful consideration, she rejected those arguments, a view reinforced by the Attorney General."