Northern Ireland news

Rugby rape trial: Final day of evidence finished so what next?

Paddy Jackson (right) and Stuart Olding arriving at court today. Pictures by Pacemaker

THE final day of evidence in the trial of two Ulster rugby players accused of rape heard a friend of the men deny putting loyalty to them first.

Yesterday’s exchanges concluded the defence case in the trial, which will not sit in front of the jury today.

The alleged victim claimed she was raped by Paddy Jackson (26) in the bedroom of his Oakleigh Park home in south Belfast in June 2016, whilst being forced to perform a sex act on 24-yearold Ulster and Ireland teammate Stuart Olding. Mr Jackson has also been charged with sexually assaulting the woman, with the pair denying all counts.

Judge Patricia Smyth said the case would now enter its next phase where prosecution and defence legal teams would have an opportunity to address the jury of eight men and three women on all the evidence they have heard.

As the trial entered its seventh week, the jury yesterday heard from Rory Harrison, a friend of Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, who was accused of being "delegated" to look after a distressed young woman and get her home.

The suggestion was made to Rory Harrison, who was also accused of displaying "misguided loyalty" to his friends, instead of a "traumatised" young woman.

Harrison (25), from Manse Road in Belfast, has been charged with perverting the course of justice, and of withholding information, in the wake of an alleged sex attack on a student.

Harrison spent his second day in the witness box, where he denied a series of accusations made by Crown barrister Toby Hedworth QC.

Harrison was accused of, and denied, conducting a "verbal fencing match" whilst giving a witness statement to police in June 2016 and of "circling the wagon" with his friends when he became aware the woman had been upset due to non-consensual sexual activity.

The jury has already heard that at around 5am on Tuesday June 28 2016 Harrison accompanied the woman home in a taxi. She has told the court that after being raped by Jackson and Olding, and after Blane McIlroy exposed himself, she fled Jackson's house in a state of distress.

She also made the case that as she fled, Harrison ran after her. Her version of events was rejected by Harrison. 

The rugby player said that at the afterparty in Jackson's house, he noticed the woman was "fixated" and "staring at" Jackson and that he saw her following Jackson up the stairs. He said the next time he saw her was at the top of the stairs, as he went to say goodbye to his friends before leaving.

After the then 19-year old went to police, Jackson, Olding and McIlroy were all arrested on June 30 2016, while Harrison was treated as a witness and provided a statement on that date. However, as the investigation proceeded, Harrison was arrested in October 2016 and charged with two offences.

Under cross-examination by Mr Hedworth QC, Harrison was asked about a text he sent to the woman minutes after leaving her home in a taxi which said "keep your chin up, you wonderful young woman".

Asked what he meant by that, Harrison said she was upset and he wanted to make her feel better - with Mr Hedworth saying these were "just weasle words".

When Harrison was questioned about the statement he made to police on June 30, he was asked why he didn't show police his phone. He said he was never asked, adding "if they asked to see it I would have shown them."

As Mr Hedworth turned his attention to the events in question, he was asked why he thought the young woman was so upset in the early hours. Harrison said he thought perhaps Jackson had "rejected her",  adding he assumed "if something was properly wrong she would have told me".

He confirmed he thad taken her home, but said he had no recollection of asking what had made her upset. 

 Blane McIlroy arriving at court today. Picture by Pacemaker

When it was suggested to Harrison that after the woman was subjected to an ordeal in Jackson's bedroom "you were delegated to get her home and look after her", the defendant replied "that's not right".

When asked about a text she sent to him that morning which said what happened with his friends had been non-consensual, and whether this concerned him, Harrison said "the more I thought about it, I didn't believe it".

Regarding the witness statement he made to police, Harrison was asked why he didn't tell police about the text.

He was asked "Did you not think that was an extremely significant piece of information?" to which he replied "I was never asked if there was contact between myself and (the complainant) the next day, or if there had been any contact by text. If I had asked, I would have answered that fully."

Mr Hedworth also quizzed Harrison about lunch he had with his three co-accused on the afternoon of June 28. He said he he had not told Jackson or Olding about the text he received from the woman in which she referred to the sexual activity being "non-consensual'.

He repeated an ascertion that as he didn't believe it, he didn't want to worry Jackson.

Suggesting that at this lunch "the wagons got circled", Mr Hedworth said "a general decision was taken as to what to say" and a "party line had to be adhered to." This was rejected by Harrison who said "no, there was no party line".

Mr Hedworth told Harrison "that witness statement you gave to police... was part of the party line, because regrettably however good an upbringing you have had, or as good a family you undoubtedly came from, sadly you put loyalty to your friends first."

Harrison answered "I disagree with you."

It was also put to Harrison this was "misguided loyalty" where instead he should have been "looking after the young woman that you knew full well had been traumatised by what had been done to her upstairs in that house." He replied "that is also incorrect."

Paddy, from Oakleigh Park in Belfast, and Olding (24) from Ardenlee Street in Belfast, deny raping the same woman. Jackson denies a further count of sexual assault.

Blane McIlroy (26) from Royal Lodge Road in Belfast, denies exposure while Rory Harrison (25) from Manse Road in Belfast, denies perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

The judge yesterday reminded the jury not to "reach any final views, even in your own mind, and do not discuss any verdict until you have heard everything.”

The trial continues. 

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