Monday 9 December 2019

Driver tells of woman crying in taxi home

Rape trial hears witness saw alleged victim 'sobbing' as Harrison tried to comfort her

ON TRIAL: From left to right, Ireland and Ulster player Paddy Jackson, 26, his team-mate Stuart Olding, 24, and third defendant Blane McIlroy, 26, arrive at Belfast Crown Court last week
ON TRIAL: From left to right, Ireland and Ulster player Paddy Jackson, 26, his team-mate Stuart Olding, 24, and third defendant Blane McIlroy, 26, arrive at Belfast Crown Court last week
Rory Harrison

Claire O'Boyle

The young woman who claims she was raped by two Ulster rugby players sobbed in the back of a taxi on her way home after the alleged attack, a court has heard.

Taxi driver Stephen Fisher, who was working for Belfast company 'Fonacab', also said the man with the complainant - defendant Rory Harrison - was talking "in code" to somebody on his phone during the taxi journey.

The court also heard that when Mr Fisher was contacted by police in the following days, he knew "straight away" what it related to.

Belfast Crown Court heard Mr Fisher picked up the complainant and Mr Harrison close to the home of Ulster and Ireland player Paddy Jackson on the night of the alleged incident.

Mr Fisher was asked by prosecutor Toby Hedworth QC how the young woman "appeared to be."

"The young woman definitely seemed very upset. She was crying-stroke-sobbing throughout the journey. She didn't really talk very much bar telling me where she needed to go to," he said.

When asked if he felt concerned enough to make a report, the witness said: "Not at the time."

Mr Jackson and Ulster and Ireland teammate Stuart Olding (24) deny raping the woman in June 2016. Mr Jackson (26) denies a further charge of sexual assault.

Mr Harrison, who arranged a taxi for himself and the young woman, is charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding evidence. He denies the charges.

A fourth man, 26-year-old Blane McIlroy, denies one count of exposure.

Mr Fisher told the court how the complainant and Mr Harrison sat together in the back seat of his taxi on the morning on June 28, 2016.

According to the witness, Mr Harrison (25) was "attempting to comfort the lady".

"He was holding on to her, and I believe, I remember she had placed her head on his chest," said Mr Fisher. "He was trying to comfort her."

Mr Fisher gave his memory of a phone conversation Mr Harrison had conducted while in the back seat of his car.

He said he heard "small snippets", adding: "I would describe it as talking in code.

"I recall him saying to the person on the phone, 'she is with me now, she's not good, I'll call you in the morning'. That's the full extent of what I heard from Mr Harrison."

In cross-examination, Mr Harrison's barrister Gavan Duffy QC said the three snippets of conversation the driver had overheard had been clear in their meaning, and the description as "code" was not accurate.

Mr Fisher said: "That was my reflection," adding: "It was as if the conversation was something they didn't want anyone else in the car to hear."

The driver also told the court the complainant was "unsteady on her feet" and that Mr Harrison had helped her to the door when he dropped her off.

He said he had noticed staining on the back of her trousers, but said when he later checked the seat of his car for marks it was clear.

The taxi driver was also asked about a conversation he had had with Mr Harrison after the complainant had been dropped off.

Mr Fisher told the court he asked if it had been a "rough night" and claimed Mr Harrison answered: "You have no idea... you could say that."

After the woman made a complaint to the police claiming she had been raped, an investigation was launched.

The taxi driver told the court that after learning police wanted to talk to him, "it resonated with me and I knew straight away what it was in relation to".

The court also heard a series of messages between the complainant and a close friend exchanged on the morning of June 28, 2016, in which the alleged victim - aged 19 at the time of the incident - said she had been raped, adding: "They are scum.

"It's that schoolboy rugby attitude times a million."

The woman at the centre of the trial arrived home at around 5.15am after sharing a taxi with Mr Harrison, the court heard.

At 9.51am, she texted her friend to say: "Worst night ever, so I got raped."

In another message, the complainant said: "I'd report it if I knew they'd get done but they won't," adding it would be "embarrassing" and lead to "unnecessary stress for me".

The trial continues.

Irish Independent

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