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George Pell looks to High Court as his appeal is rejected


Cardinal George Pell has lost his appeal and will remain in jail after his bid to quash his shock conviction for sexually abusing two choirboys was rejected today.

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Pell’s sentence of six years remains and he will be eligible for parole in three years and eight months, in October 2022.

Pell will be stripped of his Order of Australia award after losing the appeal.

The former treasurer to the Vatican gripped the dock with his hand and looked at Chief Justice Anne Ferguson as she announced he’d lost his appeal.

Justice Ferguson made her introductory remarks at 9.30am before handing down the decision to uphold the convictions with her two fellow judges – Justice Chris Maxwell and Justice Mark Weinberg – at the Supreme Court of Victoria in Melbourne.

She told the court that the judges decided the surviving choirboy was “not a liar, was not a fantasist and was a witness of the truth”.

Justice Ferguson said she and Justice Maxwell rejected all of the 13 “obstacles” to the crimes being able to be carried out by Pell as presented by his legal team in his appeal bid.

They also said that his heavy robes were indeed capable of being moved or pulled to the side to carry out the first violent attack in the sacristy.

In the summary of the decision the judges said there was “nothing about the complainant’s evidence” which meant the “jury must have had a doubt”.

Justice Ferguson said that all three judges unanimously refused leave to appeal to the second and third grounds which concerned legal rather than factual issues. They stated that it was in fact acceptable that Pell arraigned in front of the jury via video link.

Supporters of abuse victims outside the Supreme Court after the appeal was dismissed. Photo: AAP/Julian Smith

The judges were scathing about the infamous “PAC MAN” video the defence wanted to play to the jury in an attempt to prove the Cardinal could not have been able to attack the boys at the Cathedral.

“The animation was tendentious in the extreme,” they said in their findings.

“It was plainly intended to implant in the minds of the jury that the complainant’s account must have been impossible.”

Scenes erupted outside the court as the verdict was handed down, with Pell supporters clashing those backing the victims.

Victims and their advocates cheered as they learned Pell would remain behind bars.

The feeling of relief was palpable among the small group holding placards saying “Justice for Witness J”.

Victim advocate and campaigner Chrissie Foster told The New Daily the decision was “hugely significant” for victims of abuse, and that she always believed the jury had been correct in its verdict, having attended much of the appeal herself.

“This is a crime fraught with not getting a guilty verdict,” she said.

“Any rape, by its nature, is done out of sight. There are no witnesses and it’s very hard to prove. But today … well, this result is fantastic – goes against everything.”

Pell’s legal team have indicated he will appeal the decision.

Pell’s legal team now have 28 days to lodge an appeal with the High Court.

The cardinal, who sat in the dock wearing a black suit and his clerical collar, has spent 175 days in solitary confinement in Melbourne Assessment Prison.

The 78-year-old was sentenced to six years behind bars – to serve three years and eight months before being eligible for parole – by Judge Peter Kidd on March 13, 2019.

Over 50 members of the public were in court for the decision, including advocates and Pell supporters.

Katrina Lee, the executive adviser for the Archdiocese of Sydney, took a seat in the front row with several of the cardinal’s friends.

Pell’s younger brother David sat with his artist daughter Dr Sarah Pell, while more than 20 reporters from local and international outlets sat in the media area of the courtroom.

Pell was earlier transported in handcuffs in a prison van to the back entrance of the court amid a heavy police presence.

The appeal judges would have initially voted on the matter among themselves, The New Daily understands, and only one of the judges would have then written the decision. Sources suggest that would probably have been Justice Weinberg, who has extensive criminal appeal experience.

The appeal hearing itself, which took two days in June, came after the cleric was found guilty by an unanimous jury on five counts of abusing the two boys. An earlier trial resulted in a hung jury last September.

At the appeal, Pell’s Sydney barrister Bret Walker SC, argued fiercely that the guilty verdict at the end of the re-trial was a grave error by 12 members of the public.

Walker, whose written submission argued there were 13 obstacles in the path of a conviction, said the most “obvious feature” of the “unsatisfactory” guilty verdict was the lack of witnesses to the alleged crimes.

The surviving choirboy, he said, was a “liar and fantasist’’.

Regarding the first assault in the sacristy after Sunday mass in 1996, he said the incident could not have taken place in the busy area.

However, on the second day of the appeal, crown prosecutor Christopher Boyce argued the victim’s evidence was “compelling” and he should be believed.

Asked by the judges why the choirboy never told anyone about the attacks at the time, Mr Boyce suggested he “just wanted to get on with his life”.

TND reporter Cait Kelly also contributed to this report

Investigative journalist and writer Lucie Morris-Marr has covered the entire Pell case for The New Daily. Her forthcoming book, FALLEN – The inside story of the secret trial and conviction of Cardinal George Pell, will be published by Allen & Unwin in September

This story was first published at The New Daily.

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