Monday 17 June 2019

'I thought she was upset because Paddy rejected her,' says co-accused

Rory Harrison arrives at Belfast Crown Court. Photo: PA
Rory Harrison arrives at Belfast Crown Court. Photo: PA

Ashleigh McDonald

Rory Harrison - who is accused of perverting the course of justice and withholding information in the aftermath of an alleged sex attack in the bedroom of Ireland and Ulster rugby player Paddy Jackson's Belfast home - has said in evidence that he believes the complainant was upset that night "because Paddy had rejected her".

In a very rare step for a court in the North, the high-profile rape trial was held on a Saturday at Belfast Crown Court.

Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding are on trial accused of rape. Mr Jackson also faces a further charge of sexual assault. They deny the charges.

A third man, Blane McIlroy, is accused of, and denies, one count of exposure in connection with the alleged incident.

Yesterday, the jury heard Mr Harrison, a childhood friend of Paddy Jackson, claim Mr Jackson would be "the last person in the world" to rape anyone.

Rory Harrison (25) has been charged with, and denies, perverting the course of justice and withholding information in the aftermath of the alleged sex assault.

Ireland and Ulster rugby player Paddy Jackson arrives at Belfast Crown Court. Photo: PA
Ireland and Ulster rugby player Paddy Jackson arrives at Belfast Crown Court. Photo: PA

He was called to the witness box where he was questioned by his barrister, Gavan Duffy QC, about his account of events in June 2016.

On June 30 of that year - the day of his 24th birthday - Mr Harrison provided a statement to police in which he confirmed leaving the complainant home in a taxi at around 5am on the morning of June 28.

As the police investigation continued, Mr Harrison was asked to attend a police station in October 2016, when he was arrested and charged with the two offences.

Questioned by Mr Duffy, Mr Harrison confirmed his father was a solicitor, that he played rugby, and that he had just returned from a family holiday on June 27. He also confirmed he had been with his three co-accused on the evening of June 27.

Mr Harrison was asked about his alcohol intake, and admitted that by the time his group left Ollie's nightclub to go back to Mr Jackson's home, he was "fairly drunk". He said he spent most of the after-party standing beside speakers and playing music through his phone.

When asked if he observed anything about the complainant at the party, Mr Harrison said at one stage he noticed she was "sitting on the sofa staring at Patrick".

Mr Harrison said he was used to females staring at his friend on nights out "because he is recognisable, famous", adding "she was staring a bit longer than most people would."

Mr Harrison told the court and jury: "I saw Patrick go up the stairs at some stage, possibly about an hour after we arrived back at the house. I thought he was going to bed. I noticed [the complainant] follow him up shortly after."

When questioned about his version of events, Mr Harrison said that after two girls at the party left, he didn't know where another friend, Blane McIlroy, was.

After deciding to leave at around 5am, Mr Harrison went upstairs to say goodbye to Mr Jackson, and saw the complainant at the top of the stairs.

When asked by Mr Duffy "did you notice anything?", Mr Harrison replied: "Not really. I didn't pay much attention to her. Nothing drew my attention to her." He said goodbye to his "half awake" friend, then returned to the living room.

Mr Harrison said the woman then entered the room and "she just seemed a bit upset". Asked if there was any chat between them, Mr Harrison answered: "There was no backward and forward conversation. I might have asked if she was ok, but I'm not certain. I told her I would bring her home and she agreed."

Mr Harrison said they left the house and headed to a nearby garage to get a taxi.

When Mr Duffy asked how her demeanour was, Mr Harrison said: "She was definitely a bit more upset. She was crying at that stage."

Earlier in the trial, the taxi driver who picked them up said in evidence that the woman was visibly upset in the vehicle. He also told the jury he heard Mr Harrison on the phone, and he appeared to be talking in code.

The latter suggestion was rejected by Mr Harrison, who confirmed he had been talking to Mr McIlroy.

When asked by Mr Duffy "if you wanted to have a conversation with Mr McIlroy, what would you have done?", to which Mr Harrison replied "not have it in the taxi."

He was also asked if he was aware what had caused the woman to be upset. Mr Harrison said he speculated "she may have been rejected by Patrick".

And when asked if he "knew or believed she had been raped", Mr Harrison said: "No I did not."

After leaving the then 19-year-old woman home, Mr Harrison sent her a message which said "keep your chin up, you wonderful young woman". When asked what he meant by this, Mr Harrison replied "she was clearly upset and I was just trying to be nice to her".

Mr Duffy also asked his client about a text he sent to Mr McIlroy which said the woman was "in hysterics .. not going to end well". He said this was "just a turn of phrase, a bit of an exaggeration".

He was then asked about a text the woman sent him hours after the incident, in which she said what happened with his friends "was not consensual". He replied with a text that said: "Jesus."

Asked about this, Mr Harrison said: "My initial reaction was shock, that something had happened she was not consenting to. 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 then regretted it."

He added that Mr Jackson was "still the same I knew when I was eight or nine" and that fame and success hadn't changed him.

When asked why he didn't tell Mr Jackson about the woman's text message when the four friends met for lunch that afternoon, Mr Harrison said: "Because I didn't believe it. I didn't want to worry him about something I had absolutely no faith was true."

Turning to the evening when his three co-defendants were arrested, Mr Harrison confirmed that he sent a text to Mr McIlroy telling him that the police had been to his home to take a witness statement, and that Mr Jackson and Mr Olding were at the police station.

He also admitted telling Mr McIlroy to leave his phone at home if he was asked to attend the police station.

When asked what he meant by that, Mr Harrison said: "I was just aware police seize phones quite often which is pretty inconvenient when you lose all your numbers, all your photos, that sort of stuff."

When asked if he was, in fact, trying to impede the investigation, Mr Harrison replied "No I wasn't."

Yesterday's hearing ended early due to legal arguments, with Judge Patricia Smyth thanking the jury for coming in at the weekend.

Telling them they have not yet heard all the evidence, Judge Smyth asked them to keep their "minds open". She also urged them not to discuss their jury service, or the trial, with anyone.

Sunday Independent

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