George Pell leaves the Court of Appeal on his way back to prison. Picture: Alex Coppel
George Pell leaves the Court of Appeal on his way back to prison. Picture: Alex Coppel

Stunned George Pell looks to fight in High Court

A shell-shocked George Pell has flagged challenging today's appeal loss in the High Court.

Pell, 78, will remain behind bars after Victoria's top court today sensationally dismissed his appeal.

In a statement issued following today's legal blow, a spokesperson said he was "obviously disappointed with the decision".

"However, his legal team will thoroughly examine the judgment in order to determine a special leave application to the High Court," she said.

"While noting the 2-1 split decision, Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence. We thank his many supporters."

Pell has spent 176 days behind bars after being found guilty of abusing two choirboys at St Patrick's Cathedral in the 1990s.

Today's decision by the Court of Appeal means he must spend at least another three years and three months of his six year sentence in prison.

While news of the decision was greeted with cheers outside the court in Melbourne's CBD, it has rocked Pell's supporters.

Chief Justice Anne Ferguson said having reviewed the whole of the evidence, two of the three judges were satisfied that it was open to the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Pell was guilty.

She said she had no doubt, and says the victim was a convincing witness of truth.

Justice Chris Maxwell agreed.

The court agreed unanimously that two of the three appeal grounds be dismissed, but on the third Justice Mark Weinberg dissented and upheld the appeal, finding the victim's account of one of the incidents was "entirely implausible and quite unconvincing".

A 300-page judgment will now be made public, detailing the full reasons for the decision.

Dozens of supporters and protesters gathered outside the court this morning, with cheers erupting as news of the decision reached the steps of the building.

The courtroom was packed and there was a heavy police presence outside the building.

>> READ THE SUMMARY OF THE DECISION BELOW <<

When word filtered out that Pell’s appeal had been dismissed. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
When word filtered out that Pell’s appeal had been dismissed. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

In his three months in prison Pell has been held in 23-hour lock down because of fears for his safety.

The decision was greeted with cheers. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
The decision was greeted with cheers. Picture: Jake Nowakowski

He was inundated with letters of support and penned his own letter to supporters which was controversially published online.

It is understood Pell could now be moved to a more mainstream prison to complete his sentence.

One prison source said he may have to remain in maximum security for his own safety.

George Pell will hear his fate at 9.30am. Picture: Jake Nowakowski
George Pell will hear his fate at 9.30am. Picture: Jake Nowakowski


Pell was found guilty in December of molesting two St Patrick's Cathedral choirboys, one on two separate occasions, months after being ­appointed Archbishop of Melbourne.

The guilty verdicts came at the end of a retrial after an original jury was unable to reach a majority verdict.

Pell has vehemently denied any wrongdoing since being charged in 2017 following a lengthy police investigation.

He immediately resigned as Vatican treasurer and returned from Rome to Australia to face charges.

 

Pell first appeared in court less than three weeks after returning to Melbourne.

Since then he has endured dozens of court dates, a committal hearing and two trials.

An original jury was unable to reach a majority verdict.

The jury in his retrial reached a unanimous verdict.

The verdict stunned those that had closely followed the trials.

Pell was first interviewed by police in a Rome hotel in October, 2016.

Until then, Cardinal Pell was aware he was under investigation but had been told few details about the case against him.

THE BASIS OF THE APPEAL

Pell had relied on three grounds of appeal.

Within those grounds his legal team listed 13 reasons they said made the offending impossible, or should have given such a reasonable doubt to the jury that they couldn't reasonably convict him.

Prosecutors argued during the appeal, as they had at trial, simply that the offending was not impossible.

In today's decision, two of the three Appeal Justices accepted the prosecution's argument that the victim of abuse that took place at St Patrick's in 1996-1997 was "a very compelling witness, was clearly not a liar, was not a fantasist and was a witness of truth".

"Throughout his evidence, [the complainant] came across as someone who was telling the truth. He did not seek to embellish his evidence or tailor it in a manner favourable to the prosecution.

"As might have been expected, there were some things which he could remember and many things which he could not. And his explanations of why that was so had the ring of truth," Justices Ferguson and Maxwell said.

Dissenting Justice Weinberg took a different view, finding that the witness's story "contained discrepancies, displayed inadequacies, and otherwise lacked probative value so as to cause him to have a doubt as to the applicant's guilt."

Justice Weinberg "could not exclude as a reasonable possibility that some of what the complainant said was concocted, particularly in relation to the second incident" and that "the complainant's account of the second incident was entirely implausible and quite unconvincing".

TODAY'S REACTION

The lawyer representing the father of Pell's dead victim, Lisa Flynn, said it was a sleeplessness night for her client last night but that he's now elated.

"He was very anxious," she said outside court.

"We're hoping that he sleeps better today.

"It's been a very tough time."

Cardinal Pell is likely now to be stripped of his Order of Australia honours.

A criminal conviction is grounds for "termination" of the award.

The Prime Minister's office indicated before Pell's appeal that if it was unsuccessful, it would refer the matter of his honours to the Council of the Order of Australia.

The Council will then investigate and make a recommendation to Governor-General David Hurley on whether to revoke Pell's appointment to the Order.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison today said he understood Pell would be stripped of his honours but noted that it was "decided externally to the Government".

He said his sympathies are with the victims of child sexual abuse forced to relive their horrific experiences.

Julie Cameron, an advocate for victims of child sexual abuse, celebrates the ruling. Picture: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images
Julie Cameron, an advocate for victims of child sexual abuse, celebrates the ruling. Picture: Robert Cianflone/Getty Images

"Events like this today, bring it all back and I would urge Australians who find themselves reliving these experiences to reach out, reach out to the services that are there for them in whatever phase of life they're in," he said.

"These things can take you back a long way and so that's where my sympathies are."

Mr Morrison said the courts had "done their job" by rendering a verdict today.

"That's the system of justice in this country and that must be respected," he said.

Mr Morrison said he believed an independent process to strip Mr Pell of his honours would now follow.

"My understanding is this would result in the stripping of the honours that are decided externally to the government," he said

A vocal Pell backer clashed with child sex assault survivors outside the hearing, loudly protesting he was a victim of a media trial.

Victim of childhood sexual assault Vladimir Selakovic, 59, came to court to watch the decision being delivered.

"Victims have no rights," he said. "These guys are getting away with it. He inflicted a lifetime of suffering."

Others crowding the front steps of the court wanted to see Pell walk out a free man.

Former Catholic priest Eugene Ahern, 74, said he knew Pell since 1962 and had been his supporter all along.

"I consider a dog is a man's best friend and I always stand up for a dog when a dog's been kicked," he said.

"George has been kicked and kicked again."

Abuse survivor and campaigner Robert House, 52, described the scourge of abuse in the church as a "horror".

He stood outside the court with a large, handpainted blue sign.

"I'd like to see that Cardinal Pell remains behind bars," he said.

"That would be justice for our entire community.

"It sends a message to our community that perpetrators won't get away with this."

WHAT PELL SAID ABOUT THE CRIMES

When interviewed by police about the crimes, Pell had read a prepared statement.

He had volunteered to take part in the interview, in a bid to kill off charges being laid.

"I have to rely on the law and my conscience, which say that I'm innocent," he said.

"I intend to answer all the questions asked of me."

Dressed in his clerical uniform, all black with a collar, he was relaxed with police.

That changed when detective Sgt Christopher Reed, the man who would ultimately lay charges against the cardinal, told him for the first time the choirboy had accused him of heinous crimes.

"Oh, stop it," Pell scoffed. "What a load of absolute and disgraceful rubbish. Completely false. Madness."

That Pell had found the choirboys in the sacristy after Sunday mass drinking altar wine then abused each of them was, he said three times, "completely false".

George Pell during his police interview in Rome.
George Pell during his police interview in Rome.

"This is in the sacristy, at the cathedral, after Sunday mass? Well, need I say anymore," he told detectives. "What a load of garbage and falsehood and deranged falsehood."

Pell said he would be able to easily prove the allegations were just not implausible, but impossible.

"I'd like just to say a word or two about the Sunday mass at the cathedral in Melbourne," he said.

"For a start there would be hundreds of people present. I was always accompanied by a master of ceremonies. It was a big operation. The sacristy after mass was generally a hive of activity."

Other claims were also unlikely, he said, particularly that the boys would have had access to altar wine, which was "always locked away" after mass.

"You could scarcely imagine a place that was more unlikely to be committing paedophilia crimes than the sacristy of a cathedral after Sunday mass," he said.

This 45-minute police interview was all the jury heard from Pell.

But through their verdicts they preferred the evidence given by the complainant, and their decision was supported by two of the Court of Appeal Justices who saw his account as credible and truthful.

shannon.deery@news.com.au