Northern Ireland

Rugby rape trial: 'Decide on evidence, not sympathy'

Rory Harrison Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Rory Harrison was described in court as a "kind and honest person"

A defence barrister has told the jury in the trial involving two Ulster rugby players to decide the case on the evidence, not public opinion.

Gavan Duffy QC urged the 11-person jury not to make a judgement based on prejudice or sympathy.

He said: "This is a court of law, it's not a court of morality and certainly not a court of public opinion."

Mr Duffy is the defence barrister for Rory Harrison, a friend of Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

He is accused of withholding information and perverting the course of justice in the case.

Mr Harrison, 25, from Manse Road, Belfast, denies the charges.

Image copyright PAcemaker
Image caption Stuart Olding (left) arriving in court on Thursday morning

Mr Jackson and Mr Olding are accused of raping the same woman in Mr Jackson's house, in the early hours of 28 June, 2016.

Mr Harrison took the woman home in a taxi. She was upset but he told the trial she did not tell him why.

Speaking on day 38 of the trial, Mr Duffy told the jury that Mr Harrison had "consistently and positively" denied the allegations against him.

'Not a weasel'

He said he answered every question put to him by the police and by barristers in court in an "honest, straightforward and candid manner".

Mr Duffy said: "Rory Harrison is a genuinely caring person, he is a kind person, he is an honest person and he's a modest person."

The defence barrister said Mr Harrison had not been treated fairly by the police.

In contrast, he said the police "bent over backwards" to try to find evidence supporting the version of events given by the woman at the centre of the case.

Mr Harrison was initially treated as a witness rather than a suspect. He first spoke to the police on 30 June, 2016 - his 24th birthday - two days after the night in question.

He was interviewed as a suspect three months later.

Mr Duffy told the jury that Mr Harrison should be believed.

He said: "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."

Concluding his address, Mr Duffy criticised the alleged victim's version of events.

"This is someone who has done something they regretted and as a consequence wheels have been put into motion which are impossible to halt," he said. "And here we all are."

Mr Duffy said Mr Harrison is "not a weasel".

"Rory Harrison is not a criminal," he said.

"Rory Harrison is a decent person.

"Rory Harrison should not be here. But he is."

The barrister urged the jury to acquit Mr Harrison.

"You cannot undo this prosecution. No one can," he said.

But what the jury could do, he said, was find him "not guilty" of the charges which he faces.

Mr Duffy dismissed suggestions that Mr Harrison and his friends concocted an agreed version of events during a lunch meeting at a Belfast cafe on the day after the alleged attack.

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."

Image caption Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding, Blane McIlroy and Rory Harrison deny all charges against them

The barrister 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" over the next couple of nights.

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

Judge Patricia Smyth will have the final word.

She is due to begin addressing the jury on Friday, then continue on Monday, before sending the jury out to commence their deliberations.

Adjourning the case for the day, the judge told the jurors: "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.

"You are the only people who have heard all the evidence in this case," she said. "It is your view that matters and no-one else."

The trial, which began in January, is now in its eighth week.

Paddy Jackson, 26, from Belfast's Oakleigh Park, is charged with one count of rape and one count of sexual assault. He denies the charges.

Stuart Olding, 25, from Ardenlee Street, Belfast, is also charged with rape. He too denies the charge.

Another man has also been charged in connection with the case.

Blane McIlroy, 26, of Royal Lodge Road, Belfast, is charged with one count of exposure. He denies the charge.

The 11-person jury has been told by the judge to wait until they hear all of the evidence in the case before coming to any final conclusions.