Police tried to catch friend of rape accused rugby stars off guard, court told

A lawyer for a friend of two Ireland and Ulster rugby players accused of rape has suggested police tried to "catch him off guard" when he voluntarily attended a police station.

Gavan Duffy QC, representing Rory Harrison, who denies perverting the course of justice and withholding information about the alleged rape in June 2016, was cross-examining a detective constable who conducted the police interviews.

Mr Duffy asked if a "deliberate decision" had been taken not to provide Harrison with his statement in order to make the interview process more difficult.

He said: "Is it right that a senior officer gave you a direction not to give Mr Harrison his statement?"

The police officer said: "I believe that's correct."

Rugby players court case
Ireland and Ulster rugby player Stuart Olding (Niall Carson/PA)

Belfast Crown Court heard that Harrison had voluntarily attended Musgrave PSNI station in Belfast on October 4 2016 on the understanding that he was making another witness statement.

He was not accompanied by a solicitor and waited four hours for his specified lawyer.

His barrister added: "Was it a deliberate decision not to tell Mr Harrison he was going to be interviewed under caution to catch him off guard?"

The officer answered: "Absolutely not. I have no evidence to suggest that."

The detective also noted that, by October, Harrison's statement had become "police evidence".

Rugby players court case
Paddy Jackson arrives at Belfast Crown Court (Niall Carson/PA)

During the course of the interviews, police had asked how Harrison guessed his friends Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding had been accused of rape.

Given that his client knew police were investigating assault allegations and that the complainant had told him about non-consensual activity, it would have been "blindingly obvious", Mr Duffy suggested.

Th officer said: "I wouldn't agree it would be blindingly obvious."

The high-profile case, in its 23rd day, is being heard before a jury of eight men and three women.

Jackson, 26, from Oakleigh Park in Belfast, and Olding, 24, from Ardenlee Street in the city, deny raping the same woman.

Jackson denies a further charge of sexual assault.

Rugby players court case
Blane McIlroy denies a charge of exposure (Niall Carson/PA)

Blane McIlroy, 26, from Royal Lodge Road, Belfast, denies exposure, while Harrison, 25, from Manse Road, Belfast, denies perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

The case continues.

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