Belfast Telegraph

Rugby rape trial: Detectives 'weren't told to seize phone of accused player,' court hears

PSNI officers tell of quizzing man accused of withholding evidence

By Claire O'Boyle

Police officers who questioned one of the men linked to a high-profile rape case were not directed to seize his phone, a court heard yesterday.

Rory Harrison (25) is charged with perverting the course of justice and withholding evidence in connection to the rape trial of Ulster Rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding. He denies the charges.

Yesterday the officers who took his initial statement confirmed they had not been instructed to "seize" or even "look at" his phone.

A detective constable from the Rape Crisis Unit at Ladas Drive in Belfast confirmed Mr Harrison, who was initially questioned as a witness in the case, had not been expecting them when they arrived at his home on the afternoon of June 30, 2016 and that they had been let into the house by his sister.

The court also heard the defendant was not given precise details about the investigation before providing his statement.

He was told only that it related to an "assault" earlier in the week, and that Mr Harrison had offered to check his phone for "exact" details about what time he had called a taxi home from Mr Jackson's house.

The jury of nine men and three women also heard how Mr Harrison volunteered to provide police with a DNA sample using a swab from his mouth.

Mr Jackson (26) and Ireland and Ulster team-mate Mr Olding (24) are charged with raping the same woman in June 2016. Both deny the allegations, and Mr Jackson denies a further charge of sexual assault. Another man, 26-year-old Blane McIlroy, denies one charge of exposure.

Previous hearings of the court case have included details of alleged WhatsApp messenger conversations about the night in question.

On day 15 of the trial, Mr Harrison's initial statement was read out to the jury.

In it he told officers the alleged victim was "staring" at Mr Jackson and followed him upstairs to his bedroom.

The six-page document detailed Mr Harrison's claim the complainant "appeared to be staring at and fixated with Paddy".

He said she "did not appear to take her eyes off Paddy".

The court heard how he told officers the friends met for drinks at Cutter's Wharf to watch the England vs Iceland football match on the night of June 27, 2016, before getting a taxi to the city centre.

Initially they tried to get into the Dirty Onion pub, but it was closed, so they went to Ollie's nightclub at the Merchant Hotel, where they arrived around midnight, his statement said.

Mr Harrison's statement said the friends spoke to a group of girls inside the club and that "some people... were asking for pictures with Paddy and Stuart because they play professional rugby for Ulster".

The statement explained how the friends left the nightclub around 2am, and that Mr Harrison spoke outside to Northern Ireland footballer Will Grigg before getting a taxi back to Mr Jackson's house.

They did that because Mr Jackson was the only one who had "his own place", he told police. In his statement Mr Harrison said there had been music and dancing at the house and that "everyone appeared to be in good form".

He claimed the woman at the centre of the case "appeared to be staring at and fixated on Paddy".

The court then heard how Mr Harrison told police: "Paddy went to bed first, about an hour after getting home. Paddy went to his bedroom alone.

"Shortly after Paddy left, perhaps about five minutes or so, (the woman) left the living room.

"I saw her heading up the stairs. I didn't know where she was going to."

The statement said Mr Olding left the room with a girl at the party, leaving Mr Harrison and Mr McIlroy in the living room with two other women.

When Mr McIlroy and the women left the room, Mr Harrison told police he decided to leave too. His statement detailed how he went upstairs to say goodbye to his friends and that he saw the alleged victim standing outside Mr Jackson's room.

He told police: "I didn't notice anything out of the ordinary at this time. Paddy was lying on his bed half awake and he said he'd see me later."

His statement went on to detail how he then saw Mr Olding and another girl fully clothed and asleep on a sofa in another room, and how the complainant came down the stairs "a few minutes later... quite upset and crying".

The jury heard he told officers: "I asked if she was okay and she just sat there and didn't respond. I told her I would drop her home, as I had ordered a taxi."

In his statement Mr Harrison said the pair got into the back seat and that there was "no real conversation" between them. He said she "kept crying into herself and appeared unsettled". He told police he noticed nothing peculiar about her "appearance, demeanour or clothing" and that he walked her to the door when he dropped her off and hugged her before going home in the taxi, the court heard.

Mr Harrison ended his statement by saying the four friends had met in a cafe on the Ormeau Road in Belfast the afternoon after the alleged attack.

He told police they had not discussed the night before, talking instead about the South African rugby tour Mr Jackson had just returned from. The court heard that Mr McIlroy was arrested on June 30 and, when cautioned, made no reply.

Going into the weekend, Judge Patricia Smyth warned the jury to "be on your guard".

She added: "You are not permitted to discuss anything to do with this trial... I cannot emphasise that enough." She also reminded them once again not to discuss the case with friends, family or anyone else, and told them not to conduct their own research into the trial.

The case continues.

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