Northern Ireland news

Rugby rape trial: Harrison guessed Jackson and Olding had been accused of rape 'because they were high profile'

Rory Harrison denies perverting the course of justice and withholding information
Lesley-Anne McKeown, Press Association

A friend of two Ireland and Ulster rugby players guessed they had been accused of rape because they were high profile sports stars, a court has heard.

Rory Harrison (25) was initially treated as a witness, but was later interviewed under caution on charges connected with the alleged incident in south Belfast almost two years ago.

Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding deny raping the same woman. Jackson denies a further charge of sexual assault.

Transcripts of three interviews with Rory Harrison conducted by police at Musgrave Street station in Belfast were read to the rape trial at the city's Crown Court.

A detective constable said: "You guessed rape? Out of every offence, you guessed rape?"

Harrison replied: "Quite often it is in the forefront of your mind when high profile sportsmen are involved.

"Because high profile sports stars are often brought into this sort of stuff."

He added: "Because they are high profile sports stars. All over the news, that's what you see with these sorts of things."

Harrison from Manse Road, Belfast, denies perverting the course of justice and withholding information about the alleged rape on June 28 2016 at Jackson's house.

He was asked to provide a witness statement two days after the alleged attack.

When police called to his house they did not disclose they were from the PSNI's rape crime unit and only referred to an assault allegation, the court heard.

Several months later, in October 2016, Harrison was interviewed under caution and asked to account for alleged discrepancies in his statement.

In particular, he was asked about a telephone call in which he is alleged to have told Blane McIlroy a woman had "cried rape".

The police officer said: "How did you go from being told an assault to guessing rape?"

Harrison responded: "A rape is a type of assault. That was just something that crossed my mind given the nature of them being sportsmen and professional players.

"It has all been on the news."

The officer further suggested: "It's because she went upstairs happy and came down unhappy.

"You consoled her, a knight in shining armour.

"She told you what happened was not consensual and you guessed rape?"

Harrison was also questioned about his alleged failure to mention a text message in which the complainant told him the sexual activity had not been consensual.

"I was never asked if there was contact between me and (the complainant)," he said.

"If I was asked I would have answered fully."

His phone was wiped eight weeks earlier because it had frozen, the court was told.

The text was recovered from the complainant's mobile.

Later, the police officer suggested Harrison had deliberately omitted crucial facts from his statement and provided investigators with a "sanitised version of events".

"There's key things that were left out in order to protect your friends," the officer said.

Harrison responded: "It would be speculation."

Meanwhile, questions were also raised about discussions over lunch at a cafe on Belfast's Ormeau Road the day after the alleged attack.

Harrison could not recall talking about the night before, instead he told officers they talked about a South African rugby tour.

When asked why he had failed to mention to his friends the "distressed female" who had told him sexual activity was non consensual, Harrison replied: "I just sort of forgot about it."

Harrison later denied police suggestions the lunch date had been a "damage limitation" exercise designed for the four friends to put together a plan.

The police officer said: "It provided an opportunity to collaborate their story?"

Harrison replied: "I deny it."

Paddy Jackson (26) from Oakleigh Park Belfast and his Ireland and Ulster team mate Stuart Olding (24) from Ardenlee Street in the city, deny raping the same woman at a property in south Belfast.

Jackson denies a further charge of sexual assault.

Blane McIlroy (26) from Royal Lodge Road in Belfast, also denies one count of exposure while Rory Harrison denies perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

At hearing.

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