Belfast Telegraph

Rugby rape trial: Man accused of cover-up is not a weasel, court told

Rory Harrison denies charges connected to the alleged incident in Belfast in June 2016 involving Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

A man accused of covering up an alleged rape by two Ireland and Ulster rugby players is not a weasel or criminal, a court has been told.

A defence barrister for Rory Harrison, who denies perverting the course of justice and withholding information about the alleged attack in June 2016, also suggested the woman at the centre of the case had lied about actions she regretted.

In his closing submission Gavan Duffy QC said: “This is someone who has done something they regretted and as a consequence wheels have been put into motion which are impossible to halt.

“And here we all are.”

Urging the jury to acquit, 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.”

The lawyer added: “You cannot undo this prosecution. No-one can.

“What you can do is do justice to your oath that requires, I respectfully say to you, that you find Rory Harrison not guilty of both of these counts.”

Mr Duffy addressed the jury of eight men and three women at Belfast Crown Court for almost two hours.

Telling the 11-person panel they held a huge amount of power, the lawyer cautioned that they must be sure of any verdict.

“There is one power that is removed from you,” he said.

“That is the power to change your mind.”

Jurors could not revisit the decision in a week, a month or a year’s time, the court heard.

“You cannot undo a verdict once you have reached it,” said Mr Duffy.

Paddy Jackson, 26, from Belfast’s Oakleigh Park, and Stuart Olding, 25, from Ardenlee Street in the city, deny raping the same woman at a house in south Belfast in June 2016.

Jackson denies a further charge of sexual assault.

Blane McIlroy, 26, denies exposure, while Harrison, 25, denies perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

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

He said: “This is a court of law. It is not a court of morality and it is certainly not a court of public opinion.”

The evidence must be considered to the “same high standard” as any other criminal case and if they entertained “any single doubt”, Harrison must be acquitted, the court heard.

Mr Duffy added: “It is only if you are firmly convinced that you can properly convict in this case, as in any case.”

Proving guilt is an “awfully high hurdle” for the prosecution but it is to “guard against the horrifying prospect that an innocent person is convicted of something that they did not do”, said Mr Duffy.

The lawyer further argued that Harrison had been treated unfairly by police investigating the rape allegations against his friends.

He suggested police had “bent over backwards” to facilitate the complainant, despite inconsistencies, but treated with “contempt” accounts which did not fit in with a “theory” of what happened.

Referencing the importance of good character evidence, jurors were reminded that their oath was to try the case on the evidence, “not considering supposition, speculation or soundbites”.

Mr Duffy said: “Rory Harrison is a genuinely caring person. He is a kind person. He is an honest person and he is a modest person.”

The lawyer said court experience showed people of good character were “less likely to commit offences” and when they gave evidence were more likely “to be telling the truth”.

“You must look at his evidence through the prism of his good character.

“At the risk of embarrassing him, I am suggesting to you that Rory Harrison’s character is exemplary.”

It was suggested that the jury could not be satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Harrison had lied about his dealings with the woman or had deliberately omitted information in his statement.

He said the prosecution had “built” its case on a WhatsApp “joke” in which Harrison wrote: “Walked upstairs and there were more flutes than Twelfth of July.”

The lawyer described the message as a “throwaway” line and said it was not proof he had witnessed a rape or its aftermath.

“It is speculative mud slinging in the hope that some of it might stick.

“Some of it has not stuck, forget about it,” Mr Duffy told jurors.

He also appealed for jurors to consider the “context” in which messages were written, with authors sometimes resorting to exaggeration or humour to impress their friends.

They should not always be taken literally and there was no “declaration” at the top of a communication stating that what was said was absolute, the court heard.

The charge of withholding or concealing information was described as a “very technical” offence and depended on whether jurors believed a rape had occurred.

“If you are not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that a rape has been committed, that is the end,” said Mr Duffy.

Prosecution claims that Harrison should have told police about a text message in which the complainant told him that what happened was not consensual were branded “utter nonsense”.

“Because the police officers who took the statement who knew about this never went back to him,” said Mr Duffy.

Harrison never told Paddy Jackson about the woman’s message because he did not believe the allegation to be true.

The lawyer suggested: “Rory Harrison knows Paddy Jackson, he knows him well.

“If somebody that you did not know came up to you and made an allegation of a serious offence against a close friend of yours that you knew and admired what would you do?”

He later said: “Rory Harrison did not tell Paddy Jackson about this allegation. He had no idea there was any suggestion Stuart Olding had done anything wrong.

“He did not believe it. He did not want to upset Paddy Jackson about something he thought was a lie which was something he thought was going absolutely nowhere.

“There is no suggestion and no sign that he was covering up a rape.”

Meanwhile, allegations that a cover story was concocted during a lunch meeting at a Belfast cafe the day after the alleged attack were also dismissed.

Mr Duffy said: “Would you go to the busiest, smallest cafe on the Ormeau Road to discuss how you were going to cover up a rape?

“It is just nonsense.”

He further said that if the defendants had really believed a rape case was “coming down the line” they would not have gone “out on the razzle” the next couple of nights.

Mr Duffy was the last of the four defendants’ legal representatives to address the jury.

Judge Patricia Smyth is expected to begin her legal directions on Friday.

Adjourning the case for the day, the judge repeated warnings that jurors keep their minds open.

“It is particularly important that you do not allow your minds to be influenced in any way by anything you might read or anything anyone might inadvertently say to you.”

She also told jurors not to read social media or press reports.

Judge Smyth told jurors: “You are the only people who have heard all the evidence in this case.

“It is your view that matters and no-one else.”

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