Two Co Armagh men accused of raping a woman in 2014 have been acquitted of all charges against them.
Conor Hughes, 22, of St. Matthews Estate, and Brendan Gerard Monaghan, 21, of Granemore Park, both in Keady, were unanimously found not guilty of rape at Newry Crown Court this afternoon (Thursday).
The pair were alleged to have raped a woman in an alleyway close to the Fairgreen estate in Keady on August 22, 2014.
The jury of eight women and four men took less than three hours to come to their verdict – a verdict loudly welcomed by supporters of the two defendants.
Continuing his closing statement on Thursday, Mr Hughes’ defence barrister Richard Greene stated: “You must look at how this case has been presented to you by the prosecution.
“And you must be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt of there telling of the events.”
Speaking on the prosecution, Mr Greene said: “They invited you to dismiss Mr Hughes as a liar and that his telling of sexual moaning during sex as fantasy.”
He added the prosecution “postulated that this idea of a threesome came from pornography based on no evidence and this was a distraction tactic”.
Mr Greene further highlighted that one of the main issues in the case was that over whether it had rained that night.
Mr Greene stated: “The only real issue which he touched upon was that of the weather that night as he had to as it was the elephant in the room. She says there were showers but the Met Office figures show there was no rain.
Mr Greene said prosecution barrister, Mr Weir, addressed this by simply shrugging his shoulders.
Mr Greene added: “This was a lie, a deliberate and persistent lie to account for why she left the area of the Monument.”
Mr Greene said this “was cultivated by the alleged injured party to conceal the truth of why she left with these two boys”.
He said that this would have been a long way to go for shelter and that there were many places that cover could have been sought within close proximity.
“From the Monument, they could have scattered in all directions to find shelter, but this is a lie. Everything tells us it’s a lie, we know it’s a lie.”
Mr Greene brought the jury’s attention to reports from the Met Office in the evidence which proved there was no rainfall in Keady between 22.35pm on August 21 and 11.05am on August 22.
Advising the jury, he stated: “If you are confronted by someone who lies to you, stop and think of the ease with which they did so.
“How can you believe a single word she said about what happened at the steps?”
He said that the behaviour of the alleged injured party prior to the incident was not consistent with one who had been raped.
Mr Greene stated: “The two defendants had not spoken prior to their interviews, it can be accepted that there was no collusion there.
“One thing they both said was that she would collect them, take them away in her car and have sexual contact with them.”
He asked the jury to question why she met with Mr Hughes, and why she later denied it.
Mr Greene commented: “Could it be because she knows what happened and the question she would be asked is, why would she be with him after he raped her?”
Court heard that Mr Hughes claim he had “sexual contact with the injured party in the months following the alleged incident”.
Mr Greene stated that these were the main points against the prosecution’s case.
Speaking of his own client, he said: “This is a man of previous good character and no record, he is less likely to lie or commit an offence like this.”
“He gave an honest and truthful account” of that night’s events.
Mr Greene stated: “He was a 17-year-old boy, fumbling for a condom whilst he asked for her permission on several occasions.
“He did everything that a young boy is expected to do and he was ridiculed for it. This is a case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
“This was not a romantic encounter, it was clumsy youthful sex between people who probably should have known better.
“Young people get up to all sorts, whether you think threesomes are part of growing up or not, this is not a point of morals.”
Mr Greene said that Mr Hughes respected this woman even in court where he had “not a single bad word to say about her”.
He said this showed the “measure of his character” and his honesty, which was particularly evident in his account of what proceeded the event.
“He said that he felt bad and thought he had hurt her, he accepts that there was blood and that she was left crying,” said Mr Greene.
“He felt bad about this, he walked with her and made sure she got home, if you remember it was he who flagged her down a lift.”
He stated: “The relationship following this flies in the face of common sense.”
Mr Greene pointed to text messages which he claimed had been sent by the injured party to Mr Hughes organising a date.
The barrister concluded: “There have been too many lies from the alleged injured party and no narrative that explains them.
“Not even an attempt at one from the prosecution.”
Mr Monaghan’s barrister, Arthur Harvey, was next to take to the floor for his closing statement.
He stated: “Everything has to be in context, the context for Mr Monaghan does not start in the early hours of August 22. For him, it started on September 27, of 2017, when he attended the police station after he was phoned to attend a voluntary interview.
“At that very moment his life had changed and not because of anything he did on August 22, of 2014. This was three years and a month, long since the memory of that night had passed the realms of his mind.”
Mr Harvey then highlighted several occasions subsequently to that night that the pair had met or been in contact.
He stated that this was “pretty extraordinary”.
The barrister told the jury: “It is the obligation of the prosecution to prove their case, the defendants are not compelled to give evidence, the burden is on the prosecution and there should be a presumption of innocence”.
Mr Harvey pointed out the delays in the case and commented on the shortages in the PSNI.
Mr Harvey said in three years not one message was obtained from the alleged injured party’s phone and it took one year and three months for the allegations to be made.
Mr Harvey said: “In that time these kids who could have been witnesses have moved on. There is no such thing as static memory, life is messy”.
He told the jury that there were “serious and irreparable” consequences of what their decision was today.
“There is no such thing as an innocent man leaving after a ten-year sentence and thinking that’s fixed it”, said Mr Harvey. “Better that guilty men walk free, than an innocent man is sent down.”
“Kids go out, what they do at the end of the night is not planned at the very start it is just something that happens.
“The concept of sex has radically changed, it is now not dedicated emotional commitment to someone,” said Mr Harvey.
He added: “One can understand a young woman lying about going to have sex but it is not understandable for these criminal allegations to be made.”
Pointing out inconsistencies in her evidence, Mr Harvey stated: “She tells police she was raped by one boy and that the other watched but later changes this.”
The barrister commented: “This is the least romantic place even in Keady.
“You have heard evidence that Mr Monaghan was a reserved guy, a quiet guy who did not seek the limelight but a nice guy, a good guy.”
Speaking about Keady, Mr Harvey stated: “Gossip is prevalent in small communities but not malice. People do tell lies but not for malice but to save face without considering the consequences.
“If the lie is repeated enough people will believe it is true but the truth always surmounts deception.
“This is in the context of young people that have been drinking; alcohol affects them much more substantially and loosens their inhibitions. They did things they normally wouldn’t do.
“When interviewed for the second time on October 27, of 2017, police questioned why she didn’t report it at the time. She told them she did not know it was rape but surely you would speak out about something that made you that uncomfortable.”
“The ‘Me Too’ movement may be a couple of years old but concerns over consent predate 2014,” Mr Harvey stated. “Mr Monaghan is not charged with assisting in the acts which Mr Hughes is alleged to have committed.”
He finished by telling the jury: “There are two types of intelligence; that of emotion and that of logic or reason, that of what you see or hear.
“You must be sure to use this in ruling and be sure beyond a reasonable doubt as lives will be damaged by what has happened.”
His honour Judge Gordon Kerr told the jury that they must consider the defendants separately and to take note that the delay in the case could lead to things being forgotten.
He stated that all the evidence given in court was admissible to the case.
Judge Kerr added: “Both have previous good character, therefore they are one, less likely to commit an offence and two, more likely to tell the truth.”
The jury of eight women and four men took less than three hours to reach their unanimous verdict.
Both defendants were found to be not guilty of the offences they faced.
Shouts of “yes” were heard from the public gallery as the verdict was read, and following this, the two men and their families in the gallery began to weep.