Sunday 25 March 2018

Nicola Anderson at the rugby rape trial: Defendant denies using 'weasel words'

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

Nicola Anderson

THERE was a tense pause in the proceedings as Toby Hedworth QC, for the prosecution, shuffled some papers.

"Would you regard yourself, Mr Harrison, as an honourable man?" he began again with an air that was almost casual - except that it was not.

In the witness box, Rory Harrison appeared almost startled.

"I'd like to think so, yes," was his answer.

"A decent man?" continued Mr Hedworth.

"Yes," replied Mr Harrison.

The barrister asked him if he considered the alleged victim to be a "wonderful young woman".

"Eh, I don't know," Mr Harrison said.

The trial had earlier heard evidence that after dropping the complainant home in a taxi that night, he had sent her a text message urging her to: "Keep the chin up, you wonderful young woman."

"Why did you call her that?" demanded Mr Hedworth.

"She was upset - it was a compliment to try and make her feel better," said Mr Harrison.

"Just weasel words then," said the barrister quietly.

"No, it was just to try and make her feel better," the young man repeated.

Not for the first time during his cross-examination, Mr Hedworth asked him whether that was his "serious answer" to "those ladies and gentlemen", with a small gesture towards the jury.

"Yes, it is, yes," Mr Harrison said.

The atmosphere in the public gallery throughout the afternoon had been taut and watchful.

Of the four young men on trial - Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison - the final word went to Mr Harrison, the last on the stand.

And as Mr Hedworth brought him painstakingly through his evidence, it was clear much detail from that night had evaded his memory. Placidly and almost with the air of a much older man, the 25-year-old repeatedly claimed that he could not remember.

He could not recall being told by police in October 2016 that he could attend the police station voluntarily to make a witness statement - or face being arrested.

He could not remember "too much" about the alleged victim apart from her hair colour and the fact that she was "fixated on Paddy" that evening, Mr Hedworth put it to him.

"Yeah that's what I remember about her," he agreed.

"Was this furthering the account you'd quite deliberately given to police on June 30 to try and row your friend Paddy Jackson out of this matter?" Mr Hedworth asked him.

"No, it was not," said Mr Harrison.

"And so I'll finish, if I may, where I started," said the barrister, asking again if the alleged victim was a "wonderful young woman".

"I don't know," said Mr Harrison once again.

"Or is she, as you would say, a 'silly young girl'," continued Mr Hedworth.

"I think she's someone who's regretted what she's done, yeah," said the defendant.

"With?" asked Mr Hedworth.

"I'm not sure," replied Mr Harrison.

The last witness of this trial was retired nurse Maura Cushnahan who recalled how Mr Harrison had once helped her with her bags onto a bus.

She said she knew it was only a "snapshot in someone's life" - but he had been a "gentleman" to her, she said.

Irish Independent

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