Monday 23 July 2018

Nicola Anderson: Text messages reveal interplay of key witnesses in trial

Role of PSNI also examined in the Ulster rugby rape case

Stuart Olding arrives at court. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Stuart Olding arrives at court. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

At the police station, the detective put it to Rory Harrison that out of every offence that might have allegedly been committed that night, he had guessed rape.

"It's because you hear about all these cases, because it's sports people, high-profile people, sports stars that are brought into this type of stuff," explained Mr Harrison.

"You guessed rape?" said the officer.

"Yeah," he replied.

"Why did you guess rape?" the detective persisted.

"Because they're high-profile sports stars. This sort of thing is all over the news," Mr Harrison said.

Ireland and Ulster rugby player Paddy Jackson. Photo: Michael Cooper/PA Wire
Ireland and Ulster rugby player Paddy Jackson. Photo: Michael Cooper/PA Wire

"You guessed rape," repeated the officer.

In the final week of the prosecution's case, the summit was reached with the text messages which revealed the fascinating interplay between key witnesses.

We also saw the cross-examination of the two leading PSNI officers in charge of this investigation.

In line with custom and practice in the North, neither of these detective constables can be named.

Rory Harrison. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Rory Harrison. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

However, they came under heavy scrutiny by the defence over how the investigation had been conducted.

Certain decisions made were criticised, while other things deemed critical by the defence had not been considered important to the police, it seemed.

Their failure to collect the clothing worn on the night by Stuart Olding and Blane McIlroy was a particular bone of contention.

The police explained they had searched Mr Olding's house and had failed to recover the blue shirt he had worn that night, while in the case of Mr McIlroy, the clothing had already been washed and so it was a fruitless exercise.

Blane McIlroy. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire
Blane McIlroy. Photo: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Frank O'Donoghue, for Mr Olding, said that his client's house had been searched by police without his knowledge and using his own keys - with the investigator saying that he may not have been told to avoid the possibility of someone coming into the house to remove items.

Mr McIlroy's barrister, meanwhile, retorted that it was scarcely surprising that his client's clothes had been washed, given that the police had not sought them until two weeks later, on July 15.

Considered frustrating by the defence, too, was the failure to clear up inconsistencies within the various accounts given by the complainant to her friends, the sexual abuse clinic, and her police interviews.

However, the detectives stressed that the rape crime unit to which they are attached is victim-centred and they do not ask 'leading questions', but allow the alleged victim to give her account in her own words.

"Sometimes you just let the witness speak and sometimes things don't always come to the fore," said the constable who had conducted the ABE, or achieving best evidence, interviews with the woman.

"The ABE is about the witness giving her evidence," she said.

"Some things probably could've been probed and some might have been, but it's about not pushing the witness."

This was a witness deemed vulnerable, the chief investigator later clarified.

They had been further concerned by the fact that she had not yet told her family at that stage about what she claimed to have happened, and the police were worried that she did not have any support.

The jury also heard accounts given by Mr Harrison and Mr McIlroy to police. Mr Harrison's interviews were read aloud in court by Rosemary Walsh, for the prosecution, while the audio tapes of Mr McIlroy's interview were played.

Asked by police if he was "jealous" that Mr Jackson had seemingly just had sex with the complainant when he entered the bedroom, Mr McIlroy replied that he was not, and claimed that the woman had tried to kiss him earlier in the night but he declined.

"It was obvious she was trying to pull or kiss numerous members of the group. Paddy's the one who ended up going upstairs with her," he said.

Mr Harrison had denied claims he had deliberately intended to withhold information to protect his friends and conducted "damage limitation" by going for lunch the next day to offer the friends a chance to "get around the table to talk about what happened".

Then there were the text messages between the various witnesses set out in a 'big picture' format by the prosecution, making for compelling hearing.

Two minutes after the alleged victim sent a distraught-sounding text message to a friend that morning, confiding that she been raped, a friend of Mr Olding had texted him, asking: "How was she?"

Later, we heard of a text conversation between Mr Harrison and Mr McIlroy after the arrest of Mr Jackson and Mr Olding in which Mr Harrison expressed a hope the case might be thrown out of court, describing it as "ridiculous" and the alleged victim as a "silly little girl".

He also claimed police went straight to Les Kiss (former Ulster Rugby coach) which "was f***ing ridiculous".

Mr Jackson (26), from Oakleigh Park, in Belfast, and his teammate Mr Olding (24), from Ardenlee Street, in the city, deny raping the same woman during the early hours of June 28, 2016.Mr Jackson denies a further charge of sexual assault.

Mr McIlroy (26), of Royal Lodge Road, Belfast, denies one count of exposure, while Mr Harrison (25), from Manse Road, in Belfast, denies perverting the course of justice and withholding evidence.

Irish Independent

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