Paddy Jackson "is the last person in the world to rape someone," court hears as Rory Harrison takes to the witness box
Rory Harrison was called to the witness box on Saturday.
A childhood friend of Ireland and Ulster rugby player Paddy Jackson has said that the sportsman would be "the last person in the world" to rape anyone.
In a very rare step, an ongoing trial at Belfast Crown Court was held on a Saturday, when Rory Harrison was called to the witness box where he was questioned by his barrister.
Harrison (25) from Manse Road in the city, has been charged with, and denies, perverting the course of justice and withholding information in the aftermath of an alleged sex attack in the bedroom of Jackson's Oakleigh Park home.
The jury of eight men and three women have already heard that whilst Jackson (26), Stuart Olding and Blane McIlroy were all arrested on 30 June 2016 on charges arising from the incident, Harrison was initially treated as a witness.
Jackson and Olding (24) from Ardenlee Street have both been charged with raping the woman, while Jackson has been further charged with sexually assaulting her. They both deny the charge, claiming any activity was consensual.
On 30 June - the day of his 24th birthday - Harrison provided a statement to police where he confirmed leaving the complainant home at around 5am on the morning of 28 June. As the police investigation continued, Harrison was asked to attend a police station in October 2016, where he was arrested and charged with the two offences.
As he was questioned by his barrister Gavan Duffy QC, Harrison confirmed that his father was a solicitor, that he played rugby, and that he had just returned from a family holiday on 27 June. He also confirmed he had been with his three co-accused on the evening of 27 June.
Harrison was asked about his alcohol intake, and admitted by the time his group left Ollie's to go back to Jackson's home, he was "fairly drunk." He said he spent most of the afterparty standing beside speakers and playing music through his phone.
When asked if he observed anything about the complainant at the party, Harrison said at one stage he noticed she was "sitting on the sofa staring at Patrick." Harrison said he was used to females staring at his friend on nights out "because he is recognisible, famous," adding, "she was staring a bit longer than most people would."
Harrison told the court and jury: "I saw Patrick go up the stairs at some stage, possibly about an hour after we arrived back at the house. I thought he was going to bed. I noticed (the complainant) follow him up shortly after."
The woman claimed she was raped from behind by Jackson whilst being forced to perform oral sex on Olding. She said as this attack was ending, McIlroy (25) walked into the room, naked, and with his penis in his hand.
She also claimed McIlroy thrust at her, demanded sex, then tried as she tried to leave the bedroom, he stood in the door and tried to prevent her leaving. She said she then fled the house in a distressed state, and was taken home in a taxi by Harrison.
McIlroy, from Royal Lodge Road in Belfast, has been charged with exposure - a charge he denies.
When questioned about his version of events, Harrison said that after two girls at the party left, he didn't know where McIlroy was. After deciding to leave at around 5am, he went upstairs to say goodbye to Jackson, and saw the complainant at the top of the stairs.
When asked by Mr Duffy, "Did you notice anything?", Harrison replied: "Not really. I didn't pay much attention to her. Nothing drew my attention to her." He said goodbye to his "half awake" friend, then returned to the living room.
He said the woman then entered the room and "she just seemed a bit upset." Asked if there was any chat between them, Harrison answered, "There was no backward and forward conversation. I might have asked if she was ok, but I'm not certain. I told her I would bring her home, and she agreed."
Harrison said they they left the house and headed to a nearby garage to get a taxi. After Mr Duffy asked how her demeanor was, Harrison said: "She was definitely a bit more upset. She was crying at that stage."
Earlier in the trial, the taxi driver who picked them up gave evidence and said the woman was visibly upset in the vehicle. He also told the jury he heard Harrison on the phone, and he appeared to be talking in code.
The latter suggestion was rejected by Harrison. When asked by Mr Duffy "if you wanted to have a conversation with Mr McIlroy, what would you have done?", to which Harrison replied "not have it in the taxi."
He was also asked if he was aware what had caused the woman's upset. Harrison said he speculated, "She may have been rejected by Patrick." And when asked if he "knew or believed she had been raped," Harrison said, "No I did not."
After leaving the then 19-year old home, Harrison sent her a message which said 'Keep your chin up, you wonderful young woman." When asked what he meant by this, Harrison replied "She was clearly upset and I was just trying to be nice to her."
Mr Duffy also asked his client about a text he sent to McIlroy which said the woman was 'in hysterics .. not going to end well.' He said this was "just a turn of phrase, a bit of an exaggeration."
He was then quizzed about a text the woman sent him hours after the incident, in which she said what happened with his friends 'was not consensual'. He replied with a text that said 'Jesus.'
Asked about this, Harrison said: "My initial reaction was shock, that something had happened she was not consenting to. The more I thought about it ... I have known Patrick since I was eight or nine. He is the last person in the world to rape someone. I didn't believe it. I thought she had maybe done something then regretted it."
He added Jackson was "still the same I knew when I was eight or nine" and that fame and success hadn't changed him.
When asked why he didn't tell Jackson about the woman's text when the four friends met for lunch that afternoon, Harrison said: "Because I didn't believe it. I didn't want to worry him about something I had absolutely no faith was true."
Turning to the evening when his three co-defendants were arrested, Harrison confirmed he sent a text to McIlroy telling him the police had been to his home to take a witness statement, and that Jackson and Olding were at the police station.
He also admitted telling McIlroy to leave his phone at home if he was asked to attend the police station. When asked what he meant by that, Harrison said: "I was just aware police seize phones quite often which is pretty inconvenient when you lose all your numbers, all your photos, that sort of stuff."
When asked if he was in fact trying to impede the investigation, Harrison replied, "No I wasn't."
Satuday's hearing ended early due to legal arguments, with Judge Patricia Smyth thanking the jury for coming in at the weekend.
Telling that they have not yet heard all the evidence, Judge Smyth asked the jury to keep their "minds open." She also urged them not to discuss their jury service, or the trial, with anyone, and asked that they return to court on Monday at 2pm.
Reporting by Ashleigh McDonald for M&M News Services.