Berliner Tageblatt - French court postpones rugby stars' gang rape trial

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French court postpones rugby stars' gang rape trial
French court postpones rugby stars' gang rape trial / Photo: © AFP/File

French court postpones rugby stars' gang rape trial

A French court Monday postponed the trial of rugby players accused of gang-raping a student in 2017 after one of the main defendants was unable to appear in court following an accident.

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The trial in the southwestern city of Bordeaux, the scene of the alleged rape by then members of the Grenoble team after a rugby match, had been set to open Monday after a seven-year wait.

But the court ordered it take place instead from December 2 to 13 after one of the main defendants, Irishman Denis Coulson, was unable to attend after a traffic accident last Wednesday.

"He had a very serious accident and is in hospital. We are not sure how the situation will evolve," his lawyer Corinne Dreyfus-Schmidt said.

One of the lawyers for the plaintiff, a woman who has chosen to identify herself only as V. and is now 27, said the postponement was disappointing but necessary.

"To be honest we can't do without Coulson. If he hadn't done what he did, we wouldn't be in court," said the lawyer, Anne Cadiot-Feidt.

Former Grenoble players Coulson, 30, New Zealander Rory Grice, 34, and 29-year-old Frenchman Loick Jammes stand accused of rape.

Two former teammates, 31-year-old Irishman Chris Farrell -- a member of Ireland's Grand Slam-winning 2018 Six Nations squad -- and New Zealander Dylan Hayes, 30, are being tried for failing to prevent a crime.

Grice's lawyer, Philip Fitzgerald, said his client had been waiting seven years to defend himself against the rape charge.

"We'll come back in December with the same determination to prove my client's innocence," he told AFP.

- 10 times the limit -

V. and two friends encountered the rugby players in a Bordeaux bar after the Grenoble team played a Top 14 championship match on March 11, 2017 -- a few months before the #MeToo movement was sparked in the United States.

The group drank cocktails including mojitos and vodka and Red Bull as they moved on to a nightclub.

V. said she remembered nothing about how the night ended after leaving the nightclub.

She got into a taxi with Coulson and headed for the players' hotel around 4:00 am.

A toxicologist's report found that V. had between 2.2 and 3.0 grams of alcohol per litre of blood at that point -- well over 10 times the maximum allowed when driving in France.

Surveillance footage from her arrival at the hotel shows her struggling to stand as Coulson supported her.

He also appeared to twice prevent her from getting back into the taxi.

V. said she woke up naked on a bed with a crutch in her vagina at around 7:00 am alongside two naked men and others still wearing clothes.

Testimony from the defendants and witnesses, as well as a video Coulson filmed during a sex act, suggested that V. performed oral sex and the defendants penetrated her with a banana, a bottle and crutches.

Coulson, Jammes and Grice have all acknowledged engaging in sex acts with V., but say they were consensual.

They could face up to 20 years in prison.

- 'High level of tolerance' -

The plaintiff's lawyer Cadiot-Feidt said earlier that the trial was expected to turn on whether the young woman was too drunk to consent to sex.

"We often ask questions about the victim's consent and not at all about how attackers judge their consent," she said.

Jammes's lawyer Denis Dreyfus said he expected the hearings to turn on the difficulty of securing consent when "all parties are drunk".

Dreyfus-Schmidt, who is representing Coulson, said it was likely to be the "trial of alcohol".

"All these young people drinking until they're in an absolute state is the real problem in this case," Dreyfus-Schmidt said.

Cadiot-Feidt criticised a "high level of tolerance" to alcohol-fuelled incidents among some French rugby clubs and supporters.

She said she hoped the case would help prevent sexual violence within certain sports cultures.

Sports "clubs have their charters, which are clear", she said. "But in practice a lot remains to be done."

A similar case in Northern Ireland sparked protests after a court in 2018 acquitted two Ireland rugby players accused of raping a woman in Belfast two years earlier.