Belfast Telegraph

Jackson and Olding rape claim woman sobbed in taxi as defendant tried to comfort her, says driver

By Claire O'Boyle

The taxi driver who took a woman home on the night she claims she was raped by two rugby players told a court she was "sobbing" in the back of his car.

Stephen Fisher, who was working for Belfast company Fonacab, also said the man with her - defendant Rory Harrison - was talking "in code" during the journey.

He added that when police contacted him, he knew "straight away" what it related to.

Mr Fisher, who picked up the complainant and Harrison close to Ulster and Ireland player Paddy Jackson's house on the night of the alleged attack, told Belfast Crown Court: "The young woman definitely seemed very upset. She was crying and sobbing throughout the journey.

"She didn't really talk very much, bar telling me where she needed to go to."

When asked if he felt concerned enough to make a report, he replied: "Not at the time."

Jackson and Ulster and Ireland teammate Stuart Olding (24) deny raping the woman in June 2016.

Jackson (26) denies a further charge of sexual assault. Harrison, who arranged a taxi for himself and the young woman, is charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding evidence. He denies the charges.

A fourth man, 26-year-old Blane McIlroy, denies one count of exposure.

Mr Fisher told the court how the complainant and Harrison sat together in the back seat of his Ford Galaxy people carrier in the aftermath of the alleged attack on the morning of June 28, 2016.

The defendant sat behind the driver's seat and the woman towards the rear passenger seat, the trial heard.

According to the witness, Harrison (25) was "attempting to comfort the lady".

"He was holding on to her and I believe I remember she had placed her head on his chest," said Mr Fisher. "He was trying to comfort her."

Mr Fisher also said the alleged victim was "sobbing into herself" but accepted she was not sobbing "out loud".

He also gave his recollection of a phone conversation Harrison had conducted while in the back seat of his car.

The witness said he heard "small snippets", explaining: "I would describe it as talking in code.

"I recall him saying to the person on the phone, 'She's with me now, she's not good. I'll call you in the morning'.

"That's the full extent of what I heard from Mr Harrison."

The taxi driver was not sure if Harrison had made the call, or if someone had phoned him, the court heard.

In cross-examination, Harrison's barrister Gavan Duffy QC said the three snippets of conversation the driver had overheard had been clear in their meaning and the description of them as "code" was not accurate.

Mr Fisher said: "That was my reflection. It was as if the conversation was something they didn't want anyone else in the car to hear."

The driver also told the court the complainant was "unsteady on her feet" and that Harrison had helped her to the door when he dropped her off.

He said he had noticed staining on the back of her trousers, but admitted that when he later checked the seat of his car for marks it was clear.

The taxi driver was also asked about a conversation he had with Harrison after the complainant had been dropped off.

Mr Fisher told the court he asked if it had been a "rough night" and claimed Harrison answered: "You have no idea ... you could say that."

Mr Duffy disputed the first part of the witness's statement because he had not reported it to police in his initial account of the night.

Mr Fisher said: "I clearly remember that part of the conversation - that was clearly said. It might have been an oversight."

After the woman made a complaint to the police claiming she had been raped, an investigation was launched.

The taxi driver told the court that after learning police wanted to talk to him, "it resonated with me and I knew straight away what it was in relation to".

"It dawned on me," he said. "I went, 'Oh yeah, it's in relation to that night'. It came together, the whole episode came together."

The case continues.

Belfast Telegraph

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