Rugby rape trial: Relatives wept as acquittals announced in a packed courtroom 12
MINUTES before the verdict was delivered in a stifling Court 12, a security man at the entrance to the public gallery quietly gave a colleague the unprecedented instruction to "lock the doors".
Earlier that morning the expectation was that it could be at least another day before a decision was reached by the 11-person jury.
But as word quickly filtered through that a verdict was imminent, silence and tension gripped the 100-seat area - the biggest in any Northern Ireland court - where four rows of journalists sat close by the defendants' relatives and friends.
Some members of the public who have no link to the case but have attended each day eased forward on their chairs as someone shouted "is there room for one more".
Just metres away, the four young men at the centre of the trial looked square on, showing no emotion and not speaking to each other as they waited for Judge Patricia Smyth's entrance.
Paddy Jackson's mother, who has accompanied him each day of the nine-week trial, stared ahead as the judge issued a stern warning that the "gallery would be cleared" if any reaction was shown when the jury foreman read the verdict.
As the acquittals were announced one by one shortly before 12.30pm, relatives clasped each others' hands and openly wept.
The defendants did not flinch, however, remaining impassive in the dock before calmly striding out onto a heaving landing.
That restrained emotion inside the courtroom gave way to back slapping, vigorous hand-shaking and bear hugs - with one junior defence barrister even wiping tears from her eyes among the swathe of legal wigs and gowns.
Stuart Olding had to remain in the dock for a "formality" charge in which the judge directed a not guilty verdict.
A trickle of people returned to the courtroom and gallery for the charge to be put to Mr Olding, where a security man joked "so what do we do tomorrow".
Just moments before he was formally cleared of all counts, Rory Harrison and Blaine McIlroy sat in the public gallery for the first time.
As their friend was told he was free to leave, they approached each other and let out long sighs.
Outside, in the blinding sunshine, the glare of hundreds of photographers' flashbulbs and the clicking of shutters greeted the defendants as the media surged forward.
Each of the men emerged separately flanked by close family members into the sea of reporters and cameramen, with Mr Jackson and his legal team almost crushed in the scrum.
An elderly woman who has attended hearing each day of the hearings chewed on a chocolate bar as a passing motorist stopped at the traffic lights and shouted "so they got off then" and gave a thumbs up.
Nearby, two women held a small white placard with the words 'I believe her' held aloft. A man came up to them and told them to go home "as it's all over now".
They stood on defiantly, but within an hour everyone was gone and Chichester Street had returned to normal, two months after one of the most high-profile trials in Northern Ireland legal history had begun.
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