Northern Ireland

Rugby rape trial: Friend tells court Jackson would be 'last person' to rape someone

Rory Harrison Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Rory Harrison denies withholding information in the case and perverting the course of justice

A friend of two Ulster rugby players accused of rape has told a court that Paddy Jackson would be the "last person in the world" to rape someone.

The friend, Rory Harrison, 25, of Manse Road, Belfast is charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

He denies the charges.

Mr Harrison shared a taxi home with the alleged victim on the night in question. She was upset at the time but he insisted he did not know why.

"I thought she'd maybe been rejected by Patrick," he said.

Paddy Jackson and fellow rugby player Stuart Olding are accused of raping the same woman in Mr Jackson's house, in the early hours of 28 June 2016.

Rory Harrison was in the house that night.

He said he noticed the woman, who was 19 at the time, staring at Mr Jackson, and saw her follow him upstairs.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Paddy Jackson arriving at court on Saturday

Later, he went upstairs to say "goodbye" to Mr Jackson and walked past the woman at the top of the stairs.

He said he did not notice anything untoward.

"Nothing drew my attention to her," he said.

'Upset and crying'

A short time later, he saw her downstairs and "she seemed a little bit upset".

He added: "I told her I would bring her home and she agreed."

They went outside to try to flag down a taxi. He said that by this stage she was more upset and was "crying".

The next day she sent him a message saying: "I know you must be mates with those guys but I don't like them. And what happened was not consensual which is why I was so upset."

Mr Harrison said he did not take the message seriously. Although he was shocked initially, he did not believe it.

He told the court: "The more I thought about it, I have known Patrick since I was eight or nine, he is the last person in the world to rape someone.

"I didn't believe it.

"I thought she had maybe done something and then regretted it."

He said he did not tell Mr Jackson about the message from the alleged victim.

His defence barrister asked him to explain why. "Because I didn't believe it. I didn't want to worry him," he said.

Asked why he did not tell Stuart Olding about the message, he said he did not know Mr Olding had been involved with the woman so he did not think it was relevant.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Stuart Olding arriving at court on Saturday

Saturday's hearing was the first time in the six-week trial that Mr Harrison has given evidence from the witness box.

'Good friend'

The court took the unusual step of arranging a weekend hearing in a bid to make up time in the case.

His defence barrister began by asking him some questions about his background. He said his father is a solicitor and his mother is a nurse.

He went to school at Methodist College in Belfast, and then to University College Dublin (UCD).

He represented Ulster and Ireland schools at rugby and described Paddy Jackson as a "good friend".

On the night of the alleged rapes, he went out in Belfast with Mr Jackson, Stuart Olding and Blane McIlroy.

They went to Cutter's Wharf bar, and then to the VIP section of Ollie's nightclub in the centre of the city.

Alcohol consumption

He said members of the Northern Ireland football team were there and he got a photo taken with striker Will Grigg, which he posted on Facebook the next day.

He said his alcohol consumption that night included six cans of beer, four pints of Guinness, some gin and tonics, four or five vodka and lemonades and "a few" shots.

From the nightclub, he went back to Mr Jackson's house with his friends and four young women, arriving around 02.30 GMT.

The day he first spoke to the police about the incident, 30 June 2016, was his 24th birthday. It was two days after the night out.

He was asleep when the police called at his family home around 15:00 GMT. He was asked to give an account of what happened on the night in question.

Initially he was treated as a witness rather than a suspect, but that subsequently changed.

During Saturday's hearing, his barrister asked him a number of questions about the journey home with the alleged victim.

He asked: "It has been speculated by the Crown that you knew or believed that she had been the victim of rape at that time?"

Mr Harrison replied: "No, I did not."

He also denied attempting to cover up what had happened or trying to "manage" the woman.

Mobile phone

The trial had previously heard how the four defendants met for lunch at Soul Food cafe on Belfast's Ormeau Road the day after the alleged attack.

It has been suggested that there was a conspiracy to concoct a false version of events about the previous night.

"No there wasn't," Mr Harrison told the court.

He was also asked to explain why he told Blane McIlroy to "leave" his phone if going to the police.

"I was aware that police seize phones. It is pretty inconvenient when you lose numbers and photographs," he said.

Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Blane McIlroy arriving at court on Saturday

His defence lawyer asked: "Were you trying to impede an investigation or conceal anything?"

"No, I was not," Mr Harrison replied.

He added that he answered every police question to the best of his ability and did not attempt to cover anything up.

His barrister said: "Have you done anything to pervert the course of justice?"

Mr Harrison answered: "No, I have not."

The barrister added: "Have you concealed any criminal activity?"

"No I have not," he answered.

Mr Harrison spent almost two hours being questioned in the witness box.

The case has been adjourned until Monday afternoon.

Dismissing the jury of eight men and three women for the weekend, Judge Patricia Smyth repeated warnings to them not to discuss the case with friends and family.

She told the jury: "Keep your minds open. This case is not yet complete."

Image caption Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison deny all charges against them

In total, four men have been charged in connection with the case.

Mr Jackson, 26, from Belfast's Oakleigh Park, is charged with one count of rape and one count of sexual assault. He denies the charges.

Mr Olding, 24, from Ardenlee Street, Belfast, is also charged with rape. He too denies the charge.

Blane McIlroy, 26, of Royal Lodge Road, Belfast, is charged with one count of exposure. He denies the charge.

Mr Harrison, 25, of Manse Road, Belfast is charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding information. He denies the charges.

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