Saturday 19 January 2019

Harrison 'not a weasel, not a criminal ... he's a kind person,' lawyer tells trial

Rory Harrison
Rory Harrison

Lesley Anne McKeown

A man accused of covering up an alleged rape by two Ireland and Ulster rugby players is not a weasel or criminal, a court has been told.

A defence barrister for Rory Harrison, who denies perverting the course of justice and withholding information about the alleged attack in June 2016, also suggested the woman at the centre of the case had lied about actions she regretted.

In his closing submission, Gavan Duffy QC said: "This is someone who has done something they regretted and as a consequence wheels have been put into motion which are impossible to halt. And here we all are."

Urging the jury to acquit, Mr Duffy said: "Rory Harrison is not a weasel. Rory Harrison is not a criminal. Rory Harrison is a decent person. Rory Harrison should not be here. But he is."

The lawyer added: "You cannot undo this prosecution. No-one can. What you can do is do justice to your oath that requires, I respectfully say to you, that you find Rory Harrison not guilty of both of these counts."

Mr Duffy addressed the jury of eight men and three women at Belfast Crown Court for almost two hours. Telling the 11-person panel they held a huge amount of power, the lawyer cautioned that they must be sure of any verdict.

"There is one power that is removed from you," he said. "That is the power to change your mind." Jurors could not revisit the decision in a week, a month or a year's time, the court heard. "You cannot undo a verdict once you have reached it," said Mr Duffy.

Paddy Jackson, (26), of Oakleigh Park, and Stuart Olding, (25), from Ardenlee Street in the city, deny raping the same woman at a house in south Belfast in June 2016.

Jackson denies a further charge of sexual assault. Blane McIlroy (26) denies exposure, while Harrison (25) denies perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

Mr Duffy said jurors must guard against any prejudice or sympathy which may arise out of the nature of the allegations.

He said: "This is a court of law. It is not a court of morality and it is certainly not a court of public opinion."

The evidence must be considered to the "same high standard" as any other criminal case, and if they entertained "any single doubt", Harrison must be acquitted, the court heard.

Proving guilt is an "awfully high hurdle" for the prosecution but it is to "guard against the horrifying prospect that an innocent person is convicted of something that they did not do", said Mr Duffy.

The lawyer further argued that Mr Harrison had been treated unfairly by police investigating the rape allegations against his friends. He suggested police had "bent over backwards" to facilitate the complainant, despite inconsistencies, but treated with "contempt" accounts which did not fit in with a "theory" of what happened.

Referencing the importance of good character evidence, jurors were reminded that their oath was to try the case on the evidence, "not considering supposition, speculation or soundbites".

Mr Duffy said: "Rory Harrison is a genuinely caring person. He is a kind person. He is an honest person and he is a modest person."

He said the prosecution had "built" its case on a WhatsApp "joke" in which Harrison wrote: "Walked upstairs and there were more flutes than Twelfth of July."

The lawyer described the message as a "throwaway" line and said it was not proof he had witnessed a rape or its aftermath. "It is speculative mud-slinging in the hope that some of it might stick."

Judge Patricia Smyth is expected to begin her legal directions today.

Irish Independent

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