Belfast trial: Harrison denies using ‘weasel words’ to comfort woman

Evidence finishes in trial, closing speeches from counsel to be heard on Wednesday

Rory Harrison, who resumed his evidence before Laganside Crown Court on Monday. Photograph: PA

Rory Harrison, who resumed his evidence before Laganside Crown Court on Monday. Photograph: PA

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Rory Harrison, who is accused of covering up the alleged rape of a woman by Ireland and Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, has denied using “weasel words” when comforting the woman afterwards.

Mr Harrison is accused of perverting the course of justice by misleading police. He is also alleged to have deleted text messages relating to the incident which were sent over the following days.

The prosecution claim he and his co-accused concocted stories about their actions that night to cover up the alleged rape.

The trial has heard he texted the complainant after dropping her home that night, telling her “keep your chin up you wonderful young woman”.

On Monday afternoon at Laganside Crown Court, prosecuting counsel Toby Hedworth QC asked if Mr Harrison was using “weasel words” when he called her a “wonderful young woman”. The accused said he was just trying to make her feel better because she was upset.

Mr Harrison told counsel he could think of no reason for his friends to lie about what happened that night. However, he agreed they would have “a very good reason to lie” if the complainant was telling the truth.

He agreed he would also have a reason to lie if she was telling the truth.

Mr Jackson (26), of Oakleigh Park, Belfast has pleaded not guilty to rape and sexual assault in the early hours of June 28th, 2016 at a party in his house. Mr Olding (24), of Ardenlee Street, Belfast, denies one count of rape on the same occasion. Both men contend the activity was consensual.

Blane McIlroy, of Royal Lodge Road, Ballydollaghan, Belfast, has pleaded not guilty to one count of exposure while Mr Harrison (25), from Manse Road, Belfast, pleaded not guilty to perverting the course of justice and withholding information relating to the incident.

Mr Harrison gave an initial statement to police as a witness. He was later interviewed under caution as police believed he may have attempted to pervert the course of justice with his initial statement.

In interview, Mr Harrison was asked for a description of the woman. He told police he remembered she had brunette hair and that she was looking at Mr Jackson throughout the night and was “fixated” with him.

Counsel suggested, with this answer, he was “trying to row your friend Paddy Jackson out of this matter.” Mr Harrison denied this.

In interview Mr Harrison said he presumed the woman was staring at Mr Jackson because he played for Ireland. He denied a suggestion by counsel that this was part of the justification worked out by him and his co-accused.

Taxi journey

On Saturday Mr Harrison told the jury the woman was upset when he dropped her home in a taxi after the party. He said he presumed she was upset because Mr Jackson “had rejected her.”

“Where did you get this notion that Patrick had rejected her?” Mr Hedworth asked.

Mr Harrison replied because the woman had been staring at him and later came downstairs upset.

The accused repeated that he doesn’t remember making a phone call during the taxi journey and telling someone “she’s not good.”

He agreed with counsel that “on any level” it was fair to say the woman was distressed in the taxi. He agreed she later sent him a text stating “what happened last night wasn’t consensual”.

Counsel asked why he didn’t disclosed this text to police in his initial witness statement.

“They didn’t ask about it,” Mr Harrison replied.

“Did you not think that was an extremely significant piece of information,” counsel asked. Mr Harrison repeated he answered the questions he was asked.

Counsel asked if he treated his initial statement to police as “a verbal fencing match” where he only told the police what he had to.

“I answered the questions I was asked,” he replied.

He denied he was trying to get away with giving them as little information as possible.

Mr Harrison repeated his evidence that he did not discussed the alleged rape with his co-accused at lunch the next day.

Mr Harrison told police that at lunch he “just sort of forgot” about the woman’s text alleging lack of consent. That remained his position, he told counsel.

Staring at Jackson

Mr Harrison said he cannot remember several details about the night. Counsel suggested it appears the only thing he can remember is the complainant staring at Mr Jackson.

The accused told the jury when he went to say goodnight to Mr Jackson, he was asleep on his own in bed.

Mr McIlroy has previously told the court he was in Mr Jackson’s bedroom immediately before Mr Harrison left the house with the complainant.

Mr Harrison said he did not see Mr McIlroy in the room but that it was possible he was in there somewhere.

“He could be in the wardrobe?” counsel asked.

“It’s possible,” Mr Harrison replied.

He denied been told by his co-accused to chase after the woman to smooth things over after she left the house suddenly . He said he cannot remember the details of a phone call that he received from Mr McIlroy around the time she left the house.

He repeated he also cannot remember the details of a phone call to Mr McIlroy he made during the taxi journey. The taxi driver has previously told the court Mr Harrison appeared to be speaking in code and said at one point “she’s not good”.

Mr Harrison said he was surprised to hear this because “I don’t know any code” and the words he is supposed to have said “don’t sound like code.”

Asked if he was giving Mr McIlroy a “heads-up” about the woman’s condition, Mr Harrison repeated he has no memory of the call.

Not consensual

Counsel asked about the message the woman sent to Mr Harrison stating “what happened last night wasn’t consensual.”

Mr Harrison said he didn’t tell Mr Jackson about the message the next day because he didn’t want to worry him.

“Why did it occur to you that it related to Paddy Jackson?” counsel asked.

“Because she was looking at him and followed him usptairs,” Mr Harrison replied.

“Not because you had seen rather more that you let on when you went upstairs?”

The accused rejected this.

Mr Hedworth asked the accused, if he thought the woman was making it up, why did he not warn his friends of this. “Why didn’t you mark your friend’s cards that there’s a nutter about?”

Mr Harrison said he did not feel the need to.

Mr Hedworth also asked about a text he sent the next day stating, “walked upstairs and there was more flutes than the Twelth of July”. Counsel suggested this described a scene of a woman running out of the room in a state of distress while men walked around with their penises out.

Mr Harrison said it was a joke he made because he thought sexual activity might have taken place between Mr Jackson and the woman and Mr Olding and another woman.

He had not seen the accused in a state of undress, he said.

Counsel suggested “it wasn’t a joke, it was an accurate description” of the three other accused.

“Is [the complainant] a wonderful young woman or is she a silly little girl?” counsel asked.

“I think she’s someone who regretted what she’s done,” Mr Harrison replied.

“Regretted what she’s done with who?” counsel asked.

Mr Harrison replied he is not sure.

Mr Hedworth concluded his cross-examination by putting it to the accused: “Regrettably, no matter how good your family is and how good an upbringing you have had, you have put a loyalty to your friends first.””

He suggested Mr Harrison and his friends had “circled the wagons” and agreed on “a party line” in case the police came to them about the alleged rape. He said Mr Harrison’s evidence to the court is part of this party-line.

Mr Harrison rejected this.

Evidence in the trial has now finished. There will be legal argument on Tuesday before the jury hears closing speeches from counsel on Wednesday.

Judge Patricia Smyth said these will likely be finished by Friday. She will address the jurors on the law on the following Wednesday after which they will start deliberating.

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