Belfast rape trial: The 'circling the wagons' theory

Newstalk's Frank Greaney sums up the evidence

Belfast rape trial: The 'circling the wagons' theory

The Soul Food Cafe in Belfast | Image: Frank Greaney

The trial heard the four accused men met for lunch on the afternoon of June 28th 2016 at Soul Food café on Ormeau Road, which is near Paddy Jackson's home in south Belfast.

This is where the prosecution claims the four defendants "cooked up" a story after the complainant text Rory Harrison to say what happened the night before was not consensual.

When he was asked about it during his evidence-in-chief, Mr Jackson said they did discuss the night before over lunch but he couldn't recall the exact conversation.

He said he remembered saying to Stuart Olding that he didn't have sex with the woman and he said Stuart said the same. His defence barrister Brendan Kelly QC asked if they made a plan to lie; to which Mr. Jackson replied: "No, that didn't happen".

Stuart Olding

Under cross-examination, the prosecuting barrister Toby Hedworth QC told him he found it incredible that her condition and the 'not consensual' text were not discussed over lunch.

Mr Jackson insisted they weren't. When asked how he felt about them not bringing it up, Mr Jackson said it was "disappointing" they didn't tell him before adding: "Rory Harrison is a very nice guy. If he was worried, I know he wouldn't have wanted to cause me alarm or distress".

Mr Olding was also asked what they discussed over lunch that day and he said it was just a "catch up".

Blane McIlroy

He said he was "100% sure" Mr Harrison didn't say anything to suggest what happened was not consensual. He was pushed further on the issue under cross-examination by Mr Hedworth QC and accepted he did chat with Blane McIlroy and Mr Harrison about what happened the night before and he said "that was the first time I knew Blane had any interaction with her as well".

Mr McIlroy claims she also performed consensual oral sex on him. In light of everything that's now happened, Mr Olding was asked if he was "furious" with Mr Harrison for keeping his communications with the complainant "secret" and he said he was but he said: "I don't think he did it intentionally".

Blane McIlory's barrister Arthur Harvey QC asked his client about the prosecution's so-called 'circling the wagons' theory when he took the stand and he denied there was any attempt to concoct a lying account of what happened or to manufacture a case between him and his friends.

Under cross-examination, he told Mr Hedworth QC that he and Stuart mentioned oral sex but he said there was "no mention from Rory about the girl being upset".

He accepted Mr Harrison had already told him she was in "hysterics" but he said it didn't cause him any concern and he said: "Paddy is my best friend and I would have told him if it did".

Mr Hedworth QC repeatedly accused him of giving police Stuart Olding's lines instead of his own but Mr McIlroy insisted that wasn't the case and he simply told police the truth.

Rory Harrison

Mr Harrison was initially treated as a witness and when detectives went to take a statement from him on his birthday on June 30th 2016, he told them he went for lunch with his friends to Soul Food café where he said they just talked about the South African tour Paddy and Stuart had just returned from. He said there was no discussion about what happened the night before.

When he took the stand during the trial, he told the jurors he arrived at the café at around 2.00pm. He described it as a "small restaurant with not much distance between tables".

He said it's not the place to have a private or secret conversation. He said there was no conversation about the 'not consensual' text he received and he said he wasn't aware of any conversation about her.

When asked why he didn't tell Paddy about the text, he said: "I didn't believe it and didn't want to worry him about something I had no faith in being true. I didn't think anything would come of it".

And when asked why he didn't tell Stuart, he said: "Why would I? I didn't think it related to Stuart". When asked under cross-examination if Mr Olding might have been mistaken when he told the court he discussed what happened the night before with Mr Harrison, he said: "Yes, he might be mistaken".

Each of the four defence barristers mentioned the 'circling the wagons' theory during their closing speeches to the jury.

Paddy Jackson

Mr Jackson's barrister Brendan Kelly QC asked: "Is it really said that in so far as hatching a plan is concerned, it took place there or in fact happened?".

He rubbished the idea a well-known sportsperson would be party to such a plan in a place as public as Soul Food café and he described it as "some plan" given what Mr McIlory subsequently said to police and the jury.

On behalf of Mr Olding, Frank O'Donoghue QC told the jury the theory "holds no water".

Arthur Harvey QC described it as a "paradox" and asked the jurors if they really thought his client Blane McIlroy would be "prepared to sacrifice himself to the potential of a much more serious offence and put his parents through the ringer".

Mr Harrison's barrister Gavan Duffy QC described it as "nonsense" and "yet another prosecution punt" to suggest that "they decided to go to the busiest and smallest café on Ormeau Road with two Ulster rugby players to discuss how they would cover up a rape".

If you have been affected by anything mentioned in this article you can contact the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre National 24-Hour helpline on 1800-77-88-88