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Harrison is not a weasel... he didn't believe rape claims against friends, court hears

By Claire O'Boyle

A man charged as part of the rugby rape trial is "not a weasel" who protected his friends - he simply did not believe the allegations against them were true, a court has heard.

Rory Harrison (25) stands accused of perverting the course of justice and withholding information in the case against Ulster and Ireland rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, who are charged with raping a woman in June 2016.

Jackson is accused of a further charge of sexual assault. A fourth man, Blane McIlroy, faces a single count of exposure.

All the men deny the charges against them.

In the last of the closing statements on behalf of the defendants, Gavan Duffy QC told Belfast Crown Court the prosecution's case against Harrison had "morphed and changed" since the trial began eight weeks ago, and questioned whether the jury should have any confidence in their version of events or their "analysis of the evidence".

"If you entertain a single, reasonable doubt, then you must find not guilty," said Mr Duffy.

"This might seem to be an impossibly high standard, an impossibly high hurdle for the prosecution to jump," he said.

"It is, to guard against the horrifying prospect an innocent person is convicted of something they did not do."

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

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

In the course of a speech that lasted around two hours, the barrister reminded the court of the Crown case that Harrison had informed his friends the alleged victim told him what happened in Jackson's bedroom in the early hours of June 28, 2016 was "not consensual".

Mr Duffy refuted this, and said far from telling his friends and kickstarting a cover-up, Harrison had not shared the information because he thought the allegation was false.

"He didn't believe it," the lawyer said. "And he didn't want to upset Paddy Jackson with something he thought was a lie, something that was going absolutely nowhere."

The barrister referred to a message from his client to McIlroy on June 30, 2016 in which Harrison called the complainant a "silly girl who has done something then regretted it".

"The prosecution jumped on that," said Mr Duffy.

"They called Mr Harrison 'weaselly', dismissing this woman as a silly girl. But Rory Harrison never believed what she suggested.

"In fact let's call a spade a spade - his view was that what she said was a lie. A false allegation."

Mr Duffy told the jury if an allegation was made against their loved one and they believed in their "heart of hearts it was a lie" they might "use language stronger than that".

"The truth of this trial is this is someone who has done something they regret," he said.

"As a consequence the wheels have been put into motion, they are impossible to halt - and here we all are."

Explaining to the court exactly the nature of the charges against Harrison, who he said was a man of "exemplary" character, Mr Duffy said the allegation of perverting the course of justice related to his client's initial police statement, given as a witness on June 30, 2016 - his 24th birthday.

The barrister said Harrison, whose father is a solicitor, had not displayed a "hint of reticence" in giving a statement to police, despite being woken up, hungover.

"Rory Harrison could have said, 'You know what, I'm not feeling well, come back, it's my birthday, I want to speak to my dad, I want to get legal advice'. He didn't say any of those things," Mr Duffy told the court.

He added that in fact his client had offered to get his phone and provided precise details about when he had called a taxi from Jackson's south Belfast home two days earlier.

Mr Duffy also questioned the allegation that Harrison had witnessed the sexual activity between the woman and the other men, and chose not to relay that to police.

He told the court the prosecution had "completely abandoned" that claim, adding the alleged victim had accepted in the course of the trial that Harrison hadn't seen a sex act.

"It was speculative mudslinging in the hope it might stick," said Mr Duffy.

"Some of it has not stuck, forget about it," he told the jurors.The barrister examined various other elements of the case against Harrison, including the woman's initial claim he "must have seen" blood on her trousers when he left her home.

Mr Duffy reminded the jury that after seeing her clothes again in the courtroom, she had agreed it was "fair" to say Harrison was "unlikely to have noticed" anything on them.

Challenging the Crown's earlier presentation of Harrison's account of the woman's "demeanour" in his first statement to police, Mr Duffy said they had "completely left out the fact he said... she kept crying into herself and appeared unsettled."

Turning to the charge of withholding information, Mr Duffy said it "does not have a leg to stand on", adding if the jury was not satisfied there had been a rape, there was no second charge against Harrison. Criticising the PSNI investigation, the barrister said while police had "bent over backwards" to accommodate the woman at the centre of the case, senior officers had issued instructions that would effectively "make it as difficult as possible" for Harrison to deal with the allegations against him.

Anything from Harrison that did not mirror what the woman said "was treated with contempt," he told the court.

Concluding, 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.

"When you think about the points I have raised with you, the prosecution's main witness agrees with almost everything Mr Harrison says."

He added: "You cannot undo this prosecution of Rory Harrison, no one can. But you can do justice to your oath, and that is to find Rory Harrison not guilty on both these counts."

The trial continues.

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