It’s been a week of high drama on Hollyoaks, with rapist Finn O’Connor (pictured above, played by Keith Rice) finally being put on trial for his crimes.
As viewers will know, he raped his gay teacher John-Paul McQueen (played by James Sutton) near the beginning of the year as part of his horrific campaign of homophobic bullying, and later went on to attempt to rape Nancy Osborne (played by Jessica Fox) after they had an argument – an incident that ultimately led to his arrest after Nancy recognised him as her attacker by the smell of his aftershave.
A guilty verdict was far from certain, however, as Finn denied both attacks – even stooping as low as claiming that John-Paul had been sexually abusing him. To make things even worse, his mother Diane had swallowed his lies and vowed to provide him with a false alibi for his whereabouts the night Nancy was attacked.
Monday’s episode began with a heart-rending monologue by John-Paul, describing how strongly emotive words such “devastating” and “horrendous” are used far too frequently for trivial nuisances, but that he knows the true meanings of those words: that being raped is truly devastating and horrendous.
Back at the McQueen family home, he is nowhere to be found and Ste and the McQueen family become increasingly worried about his whereabouts, especially when Ste admits that John-Paul had confided in him previously about being scared to giving evidence.
Meanwhile with the Osborne family, Darren feels unable to support Nancy so he stays away from her – choosing instead to hang out in a bar. Will he get his act together and go to support Nancy at court?
John-Paul is found by his mum Myra in a cafe and admits to her that he feels unable to go to court and give evidence – that he can’t face seeing Finn. Myra reassures him that it is his choice and that she will love him no matter what he decides, but poses the poignant question: What’s worse – a few days of hell or a lifetime of knowing that he let his attacker get off scott-free?
Faced with this devil’s choice, John-Paul bravely decides to go to court, even though he is clearly scared. Darren also does the right the thing and goes to court to be there for Nancy, although Nancy is furious that he had to be brought there by Rick, especially upon finding out that he’d been out drinking the night before.
In the courtroom, the trial finally begins.
John-Paul is first up to give evidence against Finn and, as he steps up to the witness stand, his fear is obvious. He recalls the run up to the event, the months of homophobic torment and the revelation of Finn’s attack on his grandmother. He describes how, that night at the school, Finn had briefly knocked him unconscious by hitting him on the head with a statue before standing over him as he recovered consciousness and telling him that he was going to teach him who “the real man” was. The prosecution barrister gently presses John-Paul to say what happened next and the truth slips from his lips devastatingly simply: “Finn raped me”.
John-Paul’s courtroom ordeal is far from over, however, as now it is time for the defence barrister to cross-examine him. The slippery lawyer tries to make John-Paul look like a paedophile teacher who had a special interest in his pupil, Finn. Angered by these allegations, John-Paul burst outs: “There was no relationship, he attacked me!” The defence barrister replies sarcastically: “A 16-year-old boy?”
The look of devastation on John-Paul’s face was almost certainly echoed on those of real-life rape survivors – the myth that physically weaker people, such as teenagers, cannot rape physically stronger people, such as adults, is widely-believed and very dangerous.
The defence barrister then brings up John-Paul’s previous conviction of attacking another pupil, Robbie Roscoe, who had also been involved in the homophobic bullying and had unknowingly provoked him shortly after Finn had raped him. The barrister says that this makes it clear that John-Paul has no control over his temper, at which point John-Paul shouts that he does and realises, just a second too late, that he’s just walked straight into the lawyer’s trap and lost his temper in front of the courtroom. Seeing how badly the cross-examination is going for his victim, Finn smirks.
Next, it is Nancy’s turn to give evidence. It starts strongly as she calmly states that she is “absolutely certain” that it was Finn who tried to rape her. The defence barrister presses her, however, and Nancy is forced to admit that she did not see the attacker’s face and that she had at first accused Robbie of trying to rape her, not Finn. The defence lawyer leaps on this, saying that as she’d made a mistake before, she may be mistaken about Finn too.
Finn’s sister, Sinead, goes home early, where she is met by her step-mother Diane. Sinead confronts Diane, saying that she knows that Finn is lying about John-Paul abusing him. Diane stands her ground, however, reiterating that she believes that John-Paul and Nancy are lying. Sinead responds quickly, demanding to know why Diane had given Finn a false alibi if she was so sure of his innocence. Instead of answering the question, Diane rants at Sinead about not caring for her brother and stresses the importance of family sticking together.
Even though Diane’s actions seem disgusting and wrong to us viewers who know for a fact that Finn is guilty, her actress (Alex Fletcher) does a fantastic job of highlighting the extremely difficult situation that the friends and family of accused rapists find themselves in – do they believe the victim and accept that their loved one has committed a truly horrendous crime, or do they stand by their loved one and stay by their side? It is easy for us to condemn her for supporting her rapist son, but many good people stand by those accused of sexual violence because it is just too much for them to believe that their loved one is capable of such an act.
Back in the courtroom, the defence barrister says that the DNA found on Nancy did not match Finn’s. At this point, Nancy breaks down as she is forced to admit in front of the court and her husband Darren that she’d had an affair and that the DNA would have belonged to Rick Spencer, who she had had sex with the previous day, but pleads with the court to believe her when she says that this doesn’t mean that Finn didn’t attack her.
The episode finishes with a chilling monologue by Finn O’Connor as he states that he realised he was a talented liar when he was a small boy – that it is what he is good at, that it is what he does: “I get away with stuff. I lie. People say I’m bad – maybe they’re right”.
Tuesday’s episode begins with a monologue by John-Paul saying that he didn’t come forward at first because he couldn’t face it, he couldn’t bare the thought of telling people. Many rape victims feel ashamed and humiliated and, like John-Paul, these feelings stop them coming forward. He elaborates by admitting his fear that he wouldn’t be believed, that he could hear the unspoken sentences deeply engrained in rape culture, our culture: “How could a grown man be raped by a boy? Why didn’t you fight him off? You must have been asking for it”. Nobody wants it, John-Paul says emphatically, nobody asks for that.
Things are looking grim in the Osborne household as Darren and Nancy argue furiously with one another in the aftermath of finding out about her unfaithfulness. They look set to split up – will they?
Meanwhile, Sinead and Ste talk about the trial, and Sinead accidentally lets slip that Diane has lied to protect Finn. After a shocked silence, Ste works out that Sinead was refering to Diane’s alibi for Finn.
The episode ends with a monologue from Finn. He states that the one thing he learned at school was how bad it was to be seen as weak. With a sinister smile, to gently says this chilling sentence: “Nobody thinks I’m a soft touch anymore” reiterating that rape is all about power, not lust.
Wednesday’s episode begins with a monologue from John-Paul quoting Newton’s third law: that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. John-Paul argues that this is only half true, that if you don’t act there’s a reaction to that as well. John-Paul tried to bury what happened to him, he did nothing, and it still resulted in destruction for him and his loved ones.
Today, the focus of the trial is on Ste. Ste tells Sinead that he intends to tell the court about Diane lying to help Finn. Sinead is horrifed by this and threatens him, saying that if he does, she’ll tell John-Paul about Ste’s drug addiction. Will Ste do the right thing?
As he steps up to the witness stand and swears to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, he is first questioned by the prosecution barrister. He tells the court how John-Paul had pushed him away after Finn had attacked him and how he suddenly seemed averse to sexual intimacy. He also says how, when he found out that John-Paul had been raped, he’d gone to the police straight away but that they’d told him John-Paul didn’t want to press charges. He then delivers a thinly veiled message to Sinead, saying that he regrets not being able to help John-Paul earlier, and that not helping him was tantamount to helping the rapist.
Ste is then cross-examined by the defence. The lawyer suggests that John-Paul became averse to sexual contact with Ste because he had found sexual gratification elsewhere – with Finn. This is too much for Ste and he bursts out that he knows that Finn is guilty because Diane and the whole O’Connor family are lying about his alibi to protect him.
After a short break, Ste’s cross-examination by the defence continues. He is asked about the time he beat up Finn to try to make him admit to the rape. Ste admits that John-Paul had interrupted and stopped the attack, saying that Finn was a bully but nothing else. The defence then asks if Ste has ever asked John-Paul explicitly if Finn was the rapist. Ste says that John-Paul denied Finn was the rapist – because he’d been too ashamed and embarrassed to admit it. The defence barrister smiles at this golden piece of information and Ste, realising that he’s just made things very difficult for John-Paul, rants at defence barrister and says that she’s protecting a rapist. She immediately fires back that he’s a violent, unreliable witness with no respect for the court.
Afterwards at the O’Connor’s flat, Tony confronts Diane about whether she’s lying for Finn. She admits she didn’t see him that night and that he therefore could have attacked Nancy. Still convinced that her son is innocent, however, she asks what the harm is in a “little white lie” that will stop her “young lad” from going to prison.
In Finn’s closing monologue, he talks about the thrill of having total control over one person – a thrill given to him to using rape as a weapon. He describes the feeling of standing over his victim thinking “I own you” – the feeling of being able to do anything. His final line is deeply depressing and disturbing: “Whatever happens in the end, I always win”.
In John-Paul’s opening monogloue, he recalls how he got a lot of help for the big moments, like going to the police and standing up in court, but that in the small moments the trauma of what happened would still get to him. He’d be doing normal things, feels normal, and then it would hit him, the fear and the humiliation. He says that he doesn’t break down in tears anymore, but that the little moments are still a reminder of what happened to him – and a reminder that he will never stop asking for help.
Today’s court proceedings begin with Robbie Roscoe giving evidence for the prosecution. He recalls Finn telling him on the night of the attack that he was going to make sure John-Paul didn’t say a word about them bullying him. He tells the court that Finn told him he’d hit John-Paul over the head with the statue, but that every time Robbie pushed him about it, he’d get defensive, like he was hiding something. He then tells the court that at a later date Finn admitted to Robbie that he’d raped John-Paul. Robbie speaks of his regret at not speaking up about it at the time, that he knows he should have said something but that Finn had threatened to rape him too if he told anyone what he’d done to John-Paul.
Next, Robbie is cross-examined by defence. The defence lawyer gets him to admit that he had a crush on Nancy Osborne and that he feels guilty that he couldn’t protect her from the attempted rape at the time. The defence barrister then accuses him of trying to make up for that by protecting her now with his lies.
Meanwhile, at the hospital, Nana McQueen and Diane both happen to be there at the same time and the two women have a heart-to-heart. Diane reiterates that she believes her son is innocent and that John-Paul is the one guilty of sexual abuse. Nana McQueen tells her gravely that when some people are backed into a corner, facing a prison sentence, they will say anything to save themselves. As tears form in Diane’s eyes, Nana McQueen reassures that it’s not her fault that Finn turned out the way he did. She then goes on to tell Diane that she hears John-Paul crying in his room, that she has seen him scared to go out, that she sees the pain in his eyes and she knows he’s been through something horrific. She then turns to Diane, looks her dead in the eye and delivers some serious questions: Does Finn act like that? Does she really believe that he’s innocent?
Back in the courtroom, it is time for Finn to give evidence. He steps up to the witness stand and plays the part of the innocent abused schoolboy. He tells the court, through floods of tears, that John-Paul had sexually abused him, that he was just a vulnerable boy who had been groomed and taken advantage of. He accused John-Paul of giving him drugs and having sex with him, and then coercing him into not telling anyone. All lies.
Finally, it is time for Diane to give evidence. After her talk with Nana McQueen, will she go ahead with her false alibi for her son or not? When asked where she was when Nancy was attacked, she tells the court that she was at home. With a smile, the defence barrister asks where Finn was that night. Diane falls silent and looks over at her son. He smirks at her and nods at her to continue. She falls silent, looking at her boy with a look of serious disappointment and disapproval.
In Finn’s penultimate monologue, he boasts about how his family will always have his back, how he received their love and support without question. But will that necessarily be the case?
Today’s episode begins with John-Paul delivering a heartbreaking monologue about our criminal justice system. Everyone has a right to a defence, he says, but that means that in cases of rape and sexual assault the defence barristers set out to destroy the victims. They bring up things from the victims’ pasts that make them look unreliable, they twist what has happened and they make things up so that the victims look like the monsters. His next line, “I’m the victim of the crime, how is that fair?” surely resonates with any real-life victims of rape or sexual assault who have had to go through the brutal questioning that defence barristers are obliged to dish out in the interests of “justice”. He describes how hard it is to go through so much trauma – the rape itself, and then plucking up the courage to go to the police – and then to be made to feel as if he’s the one on trial, not Finn.
We cut back to the courtroom to the same moment yesterday’s episode finished: with Diane being questioned about where Finn was the night that Nancy was attacked. The defence barrister and Finn both expect her to give a false alibi, as do the McQueens who are dreading her testimony. But, in that moment, she does the right thing. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” she responds. There are audible gasps from the courtoom and Finn looks devastated as she continues, “But he wasn’t at home with me”. The defence barrister is clearly thrown by her response and tries again to make her provide Finn with an alibi, but Diane stands her ground. Her voice thick with tears, she then says that she doesn’t believe that Finn was sexually abused by John-Paul. Nana McQueen’s words had obviously made her see sense just in time, as she went on to explain that Finn didn’t seem devastated and broken, but that he was upbeat and positive, like he’d taken control of his life – or someone else’s. Addressing her son directly, she pleads with him to understand: “You’re my baby and I love you, but I can’t lie for you”.
The defence goes on to question Patrick Blake and Frankie Osborne in a desperate attempt to make John-Paul seem like a predator who sometimes blurs the boundaries of his professional relationships with his pupils, but without Diane’s alibi, the defence’s case is suddenly looking a lot less watertight.
As both barristers give their closing statements, the jury then retires to consider their verdicts.
In a moment of panic, John-Paul goes back to the house and starts packing his bags. He is convinced that Finn will get away with it because the defence have painted him as a predatory monster and he doesn’t want to be there when Finn gets released. Luckily, Ste goes to the rescue and talks him out of it, reminding him that no-one who matters believes Finn’s lies – his family support him, his friends support him, and most importantly, this is his home and he has done nothing wrong. He should not have to leave.
As they all gather back at the court, they hear that the jury have reached their decision. Myra turns to her son and holds his hands, telling him: “Stand tall, because you’ve got nothing to be ashamed of”. Together, they make their way into the courtroom. The tension is palable as the foreman for the jury stands up and delivers the verdicts to the charges of rape and attempted rape: Finn has been found guilty of both charges.
After a moment of shock, Finn rages against his mother, screaming at her that it is all her fault for not lying for him – that he hates her. Finally his true colours have come shining through. There are hugs of joy and sheer relief shared between the victims and their supporters, while Diane weeps for her lost son.
In a final monologue, John-Paul declares his relief that the truth was enough for justice to be done, that the lies smeared against him did not stick. But, he says, going through the trial was a whole load of extra pain, and part of John-Paul thinks that Finn enjoyed putting him through that. The camera finally pans out to reveal that the apparent monologues were not monoglues at all, but a conversation between John-Paul and Finn, the former visiting his attacker in prison. John-Paul states that he understands it now, that it was all about power, that it was all about Finn controlling John-Paul because he was the only thing he could control – but that he can’t control John-Paul anymore. John-Paul has finally got the courage to look Finn in the face and no longer be afraid. He’s getting on with his life, he tells Finn. He’s not a victim anymore, he’s a survivor.
Image credit: Lime Pictures