Belfast's courts don't usually open on a Saturday, for the Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding trial they made an exception
The courts don’t usually open on a Saturday, this week they did.
In the witness box this weekend was 26-year-old Rory Harrison. A former history student of UCD, an insurance worker in Dublin and a schoolboy friend of Irish fly-half Paddy Jackson, Harrison is accused of withholding information and perverting the course of justice.
Already sitting for a week longer than originally planned and delayed by juror illness earlier in the week, the court sat for two extra sessions. The judge has previously explained to the court that the trial must be finished by March 23rd. Saturday was the 29th day of evidence heard by the jury.
On each of the four days the jury sat this week a defendant was called to give evidence. The public gallery which has space for one hundred was packed and more than one bicker occurred over a spot on one of its purple seats.
On Wednesday Paddy Jackson, on trial for rape and sexual assault, was called. On Thursday Stuart Olding, on trial for oral rape, was called. On Friday Blane McIIroy on trial for indecent exposure, was called. On Saturday Rory Harrison, on trial for withholding information and perverting the course of justice, was called. All men deny the charges.
On each of these days the defendants walked from the dock to the witness stand to swear an oath “to give the whole truth” . The morning was generally taken up with questions from the defence and the afternoon with cross-examination by the prosecution.
From their mouths the jury heard how the four men came to gather together that night in Blane McIlroy’s house. The four did not usually hang out together, but individual circumstances brought each of them to be in the McIIroy household on the 27th of June before venturing out to Cutter’s bar in Belfast.
Rory Harrsion, who worked in Dublin, was back in Belfast after returning from holidays with his family to celebrate his dad’s 60th birthday in Majorca.
Blane McIlroy was just home for a holiday before returning to finish his degree in university in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was on a scholarship.
Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding had arrived in that morning from South Africa after a gruelling season of professional rugby and a losing tour to South Africa.
Jackson told the jury that the day he returned to his home from the South Africa tour, he was the “happiest man in Belfast”.
Rugby was a feature of both Jackson and Olding’s evidence in court. Their defence asked them questions which provided the jury with information as to their careers and early years in the sport.
For Paddy Jackson, playing rugby was all he ever wanted to do. From the age of six when he played mini-rugby, it became a passion.
Rugby was his Jackson's focus, and it was also the source of fame in Belfast where he was recognised in nightclubs and bars when he went out with friends.
Jackson, Harrison and Jackson’s sister-in-law who acted as a character witness, gave evidence to this effect, hearing that it was mostly women who would approach Jackson for a photo and he was always “polite” in obliging.
The jury heard that this sporting fame never changed Paddy Jackson, in his friend Rory Harrison’s opinion.
His close friend from Ulster Academy, Stuart Olding, was also on the South Africa tour and flew home with Jackson that day.
Jackson told the court from the witness box that relaxing with family and with friends, enjoying their company and chilling out is what he likes to do in his time away from the game. And drinking alcohol isn’t something he usually does except after a game or during his holidays.
Jackson also told the court he likes drawing superheroes and playing with his dog. That he makes, on occasion, “silly” videos in which he mime raps to songs was also touched upon by his defence and Jackson agreed in court that one video had over a million views.
Both Jackson and Olding’s sworn evidence began with a biography which detailed their rugby career, as well as their A-Level results. For Olding his relationship status (single) was touched upon and for Jackson his charity work was expanded upon.
The court heard about Jackson’s close friendship with Rory Best. Best is a few years older than Jackson and invited him to one of his children’s birthday parties. Jackson told the court that Best is someone he's learnt a lot from over the years. Jackson’s friendship with Iain Henderson was also mentioned in court.
Jackson’s character on and off the field was described as being "not conceited", as being calm, placid, and as someone who was respected on the field. His former team mate and Ulster Rugby star Declan Fitzpatrick told the court that Paddy showed leadership, was never out to hurt someone and was someone who "blended into the background".
The court heard that Paddy Jackson went through a tough period initially when the press gave him a hard time about his quality of play and that Fitzpatrick was there for him during this time.
The court also heard from Fitzpatrick that Jackson would stay back to do his extra kicking after training which he wasn’t obliged to do and that while the rest of the guys would play cards at the back of the bus Jackson would be up with the coaches analysing how he had just played.
This week, the court heard about the friendships between the guys. Harrison and Jackson had been friends since mini-rugby when they were eight years old, playing with Belfast Harlequins. Jackson, Harrison and McIIroy came to know each other in the early years of secondary school at Methody College Belfast, with Jackson and Olding meeting each other in the Ulster Training Academy in their teens.
These friendships were further elaborated on in Rory Harrison’s evidence. Harrison confirmed he was not in the JACOME WhatsApp group, that he knew Stuart Olding only through Paddy Jackson and wouldn’t see him other than through Paddy and had been to Jackson’s house maybe once or twice before the after-party held there.
In a photo taken outside of Ollie’s nightclub of himself, Jackson and Dara Florence, Harrison agreed to muffled laughter from the gallery that yes, it did look like he had been shoved to one side.
Harrison shared a taxi back to Paddy Jackson’s house that night with McIIroy and Olding and although Olding remembered where he was sitting in the taxi he told the court he didn’t remember Rory Harrison being there, although he conceded “he’d be hard to miss". Quiet guffaws came from the gallery at that.
There was little difference in the accounts given in police interviews by the four defendants and the accounts they gave in the witness box.
The contradictions between the defendants stories became apparent as the prosecution questioned Jackson, Olding and McIIroy as to the variances in their accounts.
The court previously heard the complainant, who was 19 years old and a student at the time, give her account of the night in question.
She alleges that Patrick Jackson followed her into his bedroom, pushed her down on the bed and vaginally raped her, then Stuart Olding entered the room and orally raped her and then Blane McIIroy came to the room, naked and holding his penis. The woman said in evidence that it was at this point she left the bedroom, having pushed past McIIroy who was standing in the doorway, she then went downstairs and got a taxi to her home with Rory Harrison.
The accounts given by each of the defendants differs from hers and on some points the defendants stories seemed to differ from each other as was pointed out to them by the prosecuting counsel in the case. The prosecution asked Blane McIIroy if the penny hadn’t dropped yet, that even his friends were telling him he was wrong.
On Wednesday, Jackson told the court that in the living room the complainant dragged her fingernails down his arm as a way of getting his attention. “It worked,” he told the jury, “it got my attention”.
Jackson says he went to his room thinking that the complainant might follow him upstairs.
He says he went into the room first and turned on the light and that the women followed him.
From there Jackson said they started kissing in the middle of the room, Jackson says the kissing was “passionate” and at no point was there force applied on his part. Jackson told the court that the woman was on top of him and when they were kissing she bit his lip hard enough to make his eyes water and for him to feel relief when she let go of his lip and began to kiss his neck.
Jackson says the woman performed oral sex on him consensually. He told the jury that the woman pulled down his trousers and boxers and put his penis in her mouth, at which point he became erect. Jackson told the jury that the oral sex didn’t last long and it was at this point Stuart Olding came into the room. Jackson said he “waved and smiled” at his friend.
Jackson says he didn’t quite know why Stuart Olding had come upstairs but he thought it was probably to look for him. The court previously heard how close Olding and Jackson were.
The complainant, says Jackson, proceeded to move her attention from Jackson to Olding, kissing Olding and then performing oral sex on him. It was at this point says Jackson that he pulled down the complainant’s trousers and began touching her vagina gently.
Jackson denies ever trying to insert his hand or fist inside the complainant and said he would never even think of doing something like that and called the action “disgusting” and “horrible”.
Jackson says after Olding left, he remained lying on the bed drifting in and out of sleep. He says the complainant got dressed at the end of the bed and they said something to each other but he doesn’t remember what. He says he went downstairs to turn off the lights and check the house and he heard the complainant leaving the house by the front door. He says he remembers hearing her high heels on the tiled floor of the hallway and looking out to see her leave. He says the woman never showed any signs of distress while in his home.
Jackson says he never saw Blane McIIroy in the room.
Jackson told the court that the following day he awoke “happy and happy with what happened”.
Stuart Olding says he came to the door of the room and the woman beckoned him inside.
He says there was no conversation at this point and that when he came into the room the woman was on top of Jackson kissing him on the mouth.
Olding says the woman proceeded to kiss him, perform oral sex on him until he ejaculated and when he left the room he thought sexual activity would then resume between Jackson and the woman. He says he then went into the next room and he fell asleep very quickly.
Olding says he never saw Blane McIIroy in Jackson's room.
Blane McIIroy told the court that he went into Jackson’s room to find Paddy and when he went in he saw Jackson and the woman naked on the bed.
McIIroy told the court that he had a chat with the pair lying on the bed. And that it was after a minute or two of chat that he started kissing the woman “open-mouthed”. He told the court that the woman put her hand down the waistband of his boxer shorts and into his trousers. He says she groped his penis and as he started to get hard she began to masturbate him. It was at this point that he loosened his belt, pulled down his zip and shuffled his trousers down. McIIroy told the court that it was when he stood up to take his trousers off fully that the complainant began performing oral sex on him.
McIIroy says when he put his own hand down her leg he felt a hand masturbating her. He assumed this was Paddy Jackson’s hand.
McIIroy replied “okay” in court to Paddy Jackson’s defence counsel who put it to him that it isn’t Jackson’s account that he spoke to Blane in the room, saw Blane in the room or masturbated the woman while McIIroy was kissing her.
McIIroy says the woman performed oral sex on him for 5-10 seconds before asking for condoms which he then went to look for from Rory Harrison downstairs and Stuart Olding in the next room.
Rory Harrison said in his police interviews he had no recollection of McIIroy coming downstairs to ask for condoms and in his evidence on Saturday made no mention of McIIroy when he went upstairs to say goodbye to Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.
The differences in the defendants’ accounts was pointed out to Olding, Jackson and McIIroy by the prosecution, who suggested that the friends gathered together to concoct a story to protect themselves. Toby Hedworth QC suggested that at Soul Food Café the following day the friends discussed the night in detail, something which they all deny and came up with a fictional narrative to cover themselves, something which they all deny.
Prosecution put it to McIIroy that he had got his lines wrong and that he had, by mistake, given the account of events that Stuart Olding was supposed to give. McIIroy denied this and denied that his account of events amounted to a “pack of lies”.
The court heard details of the men’s lives since they were charged with the offences they are now on trial for. Blane McIIroy never returned to America to finish his degree. Rory Harrison came back from Sydney where he was living and working in October 2017 to prepare for the trial and Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding have not been able to play for Ireland or Ulster pending the results of the trial.