Belfast Telegraph

Rugby rape trial: Blane McIlroy's barrister says no evidence of conspiracy among accused

by claire o'boyle

A MAN facing charges of exposure as part of a high-profile rape case did not "get his lines wrong" as part of conspiracy concocted with his friends, a court heard yesterday.

Neither, said his barrister, did Blane McIlroy choose to "put his parents through the wringer" of a court case as a "sacrifice" to help his friends.

Arthur Harvey QC, closing the case for 26-year-old McIlroy who denies the charge against him, said when looking for evidence of a conspiracy, there was "none".

"But if you're lost in how to advance a case," he said, "this is the perfect way to do it."

He said it was the prosecution's case that his client, while charged with exposure - "a serious crime" - had chosen to "elevate" his part in the incident and open himself to the "destructive consequences" of a rape charge.

He asked the jury: "What rational, reasonable, sensible, intelligent individual would present themselves in a police station to give an account, before he knew what any of the allegations were, specifically against him?

"To incriminate himself to a potentially much more serious charge, quite simply, it does not bear examination."

He went on to challenge the police and prosecution further: "There's no greater love than to lay down your life for the love of friends," he said.

"Or is it quite simply they don't know how to handle the truth?"

Alongside McIlroy in the dock are Ulster and Ireland rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, as well as 25-year-old Rory Harrison.

Jackson (26) is accused of rape and sexual assault. Olding (25) is accused of rape. Harrison faces charges of perverting the course of justice and withholding evidence.

All the defendants deny all charges against them.

Defence barrister Mr Harvey told the jury of eight men and three women the case was a "tragedy for everyone involved".

Relaying his client's account of the days after the alleged incident, Mr Harvey told the court how on June 30, 2016, two days after the incident at the centre of the case is alleged to have happened at Jackson's south Belfast home, McIlroy told his parents he had been contacted by police and gave them his account of what had happened.

Mr Harvey called the police investigation "a disgrace" and warned that the public could lose faith in the justice system if allegations were not properly investigated.

"The first proper examination of the evidence has been in this court," he said. "That is a disgrace."

Turning to the complainant's account of what had happened in the early hours of June 28 2016, Mr Harvey said "lies build on lies" adding that "momentum" had grown once the woman voiced her complaint to her friends.

"Momentum switches from her to her friends, and momentum builds for her to report this to the police," he said.

"The simple thing in life is that lies don't start off as a malicious intent to cause real damage to others. But lies build on lies.

"The sense you're about to be shamed on a (social media) network your friends access, then your first reaction is, how you deal with that shame? How do I save face?

"That's the reaction she had."

He said she was mortified "by her foresight of what the consequences would be".

Earlier the barrister outlined what he called a "volume of inconsistencies and contradiction" in accounts the woman gave to friends, medics, police and in court.

She was an "unreliable" witness, he said, providing "a variety" of answers and "narratives", the court was told.

"Which is true?" asked Mr Harvey. "Is it the last account? Is it the middle account? Or is it the first account?"

Mr Harvey reminded the jury of a question posed earlier in the trial by Crown counsel Toby Hedworth QC - what did the woman gain from making her allegations?

"Her reputation," said Mr Harvey.

"The narrative she wants to advance isn't one of a young girl with too much drink, who has altered her intentions towards the end of the evening, who has gone along in the company of individuals she has never met or talked to before.

"Who ends up in a house party and within a short time ends up in the bedroom of the owner.

"This is not the narrative she thinks is acceptable to you. In other words, the truth has to be reformulated in a way she believed will reinforce her version of what happened."

Mr Harvey said the woman's memory was "fragmented", adding she had accepted that.

He also reminded the jury of evidence from key witness Dara Florence.

"She is an intelligent young woman and her account is detailed," he told the court.

He questioned whether Ms Florence and another friend would have left a third woman in the house if they had any concern about what was happening in Jackson's bedroom.

Referring to text and WhatsApp exchanges sent by McIlroy in the hours after the incident, Mr Harvey said the defendants may have been "braggards" but that didn't mean they were rapists.

"If the jury finds one piece of evidence that calls into question the account the complainant has given, then it is the most important piece of evidence," he said.

Concluding his summary of his client's case, Mr Harvey told the jury McIlroy's life has changed "irrevocably", adding "nothing would restore the last 20 months of his life".

He told the court the sportsman had not been able to complete his final semester at university in America after the allegation was made against him.

"He's not looking for sympathy," said Mr Harvey. "He's looking for his legal entitlement."

He said McIlroy "has told the truth".

Telling the jury their verdict "will affect a young man for the rest of his life", Mr Harvey implored them to "honour your oath" and come to a verdict based on the evidence.

He said the verdict should be one of "not guilty".

The trial continues.

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