Sunday 22 April 2018

Rory Harrison: Young man joined his friends on June 28 in a last-minute decision

Rory Harrison leaving Belfast Crown Court where he has been found not guilty of perverting the course of justice and withholding information Niall Carson/PA Wire
Rory Harrison leaving Belfast Crown Court where he has been found not guilty of perverting the course of justice and withholding information Niall Carson/PA Wire

Lesley-Anne McKeown

It was Rory Harrison's 24th birthday when the police called at his home to take a witness statement on June 30, 2016 - two days after the alleged rape.

He had been in bed recovering from the excesses of two nights' partying.

He is the oldest of four children, with a brother and sister who are twins and another younger sister aged 19.

The family had just returned from a holiday in Majorca to mark his father's 60th birthday - the flight had been delayed and they had spent the night in the airport - on Monday, June 27, 2008.

His decision to go out drinking that night had been "last minute", the court heard.

Like Jackson and McIlroy, Harrison attended and played rugby for Methodist College in Belfast.

He left the school with A-level qualifications and played Irish and Ulster schools rugby.

He studied history at University College Dublin having gained a rugby scholarship and completed his degree in 2013.

After his studies, Harrison remained in Dublin working in various jobs in insurance.

In January 2017 he flew to Sydney, Australia where he had been working until last October when he returned to Belfast to stand trial accused of perverting the course of justice and withholding information - charges he always denied.

Like his friends, Harrison has a "completely clear" record.

He did not even have any points on his driving license and had never received "so much" as a parking ticket, the court was told.

He has known Jackson since their days playing mini rugby at Belfast Harlequins, a big club in the affluent Malone Road area of south Belfast.

He became friendly with Blane McIlroy at school and knew Stuart Olding from playing with the Ulster under 20s squad.

Harrison is on social media but has only a few hundred followers on Twitter account which has tweets protected by privacy settings.

He was described as being the "music man" at parties and would always locate himself beside the speaker choosing the tunes.

Indeed he sent a music clip to the alleged complainant after dropping her home in a taxi in an attempt to soothe her.

He was not part of the WhatsApp groups in which explicit messages were exchanged.

Like Jackson, he too is an avid Northern Ireland football supporter and had posed for a selfie with the player Will Grigg, posting the image online the next day.

In all weathers, Harrison took the same route into and out of court, walking alone, dressed in a dark suit and white shirt.

However there was much support for him inside with his parents among those packed into the public gallery.

His father is a solicitor who does not practise criminal law and his mother is a nurse, the court was told.

Asked by his defence barrister Gavan Duffy QC, if he had ever made a secret of his father's profession, he replied: "No."

Widow, Maura Cushnahan, who gave evidence on his behalf, spoke of his "wonderful qualities". She met him during a distressing situation at a Belfast bus station and felt compelled to speak out after reading about him in the press, she told the judge.

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