Northern Ireland

Rugby rape trial: WhatsApp messages read in court

Rory Harrison Image copyright Pacemaker
Image caption Rory Harrison exchanged WhatsApp messages with fellow defendant Blane McIlroy

The rape trial involving two Ulster rugby players has heard details of WhatsApp messages sent by two of their friends on the day the players were arrested.

The messages suggest that before Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were questioned, the police contacted the then Ulster rugby coach Les Kiss.

A number of messages sent by two friends of the players, Rory Harrison and Blane McIlroy, were read out in court.

Mr Harrison messaged Mr McIlroy telling him that "the cops went straight to Les Kiss which is...ridiculous."

The players concerned were then telephoned, according to the messages.

Paddy Jackson and fellow Ulster and Ireland rugby player Stuart Olding are accused of raping the same woman in Mr Jackson's house, in the early hours of 28 June, 2016.

The next day, the 19-year-old woman contacted the police. The players were arrested the following day.

Mr Harrison was also contacted by police, not initially as a suspect, but to give a witness statement. He had been in Mr Jackson's house on the night in question and had shared a taxi home with the woman.

After giving his witness statement, later in the day he exchanged messages with Blane McIlroy.

'Trouble for the lads'

In one message, Mr McIlroy stated: "This is ridiculous. Surely it's all just going to get dropped."

Mr Harrison texted: "Hopefully it's just thrown out, Just a silly girl who's done something then regretted it."

He added: "She's causing so much trouble for the lads."

The court also heard a series of messages sent the day after the alleged rapes.

Blane McIlroy sent a message to a WhatsApp group with a picture of him and three women. The message said "love Belfast sluts".

He was in Paddy Jackson's house on the night in question along with Mr Harrison and Mr Olding.

'Catch off guard'

Earlier in court a police officer denied that the PSNI mishandled part of the investigation.

A defence barrister suggested that police had tried to "catch off guard" one of the defendants, Rory Harrison.

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

His barrister said when he attended a police interview on 4 October, 2016, he did not know in advance he was being treated as a suspect, not a witness.

At the start of day 23 of the trial, Mr Harrison's barrister, Gavan Duffy QC, also told the court his client was not allowed to see a copy of a previous statement he had given to the police.

Mr Duffy put it to the police officer who interviewed his client that an attempt had been made to "catch Mr Harrison off guard".

"Absolutely not," replied the officer. "I have no evidence to suggest that."

Mr Harrison, 25, of Manse Road, Belfast denies perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

'Not about rushing'

The trial also heard evidence from the detective in charge of the day-to-day running of the investigation.

She conducted the first video interview with the alleged victim, after she went to the police.

After the video interview finished, the 19-year-old woman told the officer she had left some information out. She had forgotten to include the fact another young woman had walked into the bedroom during the alleged rape.

Arrangements were made for another interview to take place with the police, three weeks later.

Defence barrister Brendan Kelly QC questioned the three-week delay.

The officer replied: "It's not about rushing it, it's about taking our time, and achieving best evidence."

She said that the woman had been emotional during the first interview and needed a break.

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

Mr Olding, 24, 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 Judge Patricia Smyth to wait until they hear all of the evidence in the case before coming to any final conclusions.

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