of ‘Multiple charges’ what remained? What remains of credibility?

Multiple charges made against Cardinal Pell for historic sexual abuse were scheduled for a committal hearing in March 2018. Some charges were withdrawn before the hearing and some during the hearing. Magistrate Belinda Wallington dismissed all but six of the charges, five by the one complainant. Those six were to go to trial. In February 2019, the one charge by one complainant was withdrawn by the prosecution. There was no hope of conviction.

Magistrate Wallington dismissed the charges, reported Peter Westmore (News Weekly (5 May, 2018), where there was a ‘fundamental defect’ or ‘where you get to the point where credibility [of the complainant] is effectively annihilated’. Wallington therefore allowed a wide margin of credibility to the charges. That wide margin of credibility was evident when the public got to know the detail of the five charges that went to court (see Police interview shows accusations nutty and impossible). Wallington commented about those she dismissed:

The most serious offending alleged could not have occurred in the time frame alleged. I find that the evidence as a whole is not of sufficient weight for a jury to convict.”

She also found that a further group of charges relating to one complainant could be not sustained. The offences were alleged to have occurred over 12 months and the complainant alleged he was removed from the St Joseph’s Boys’ Home and from his dorm, and taken to the locations where he alleged the offences occurred.

But Wallington found the series of offences could not have occurred in the period alleged by the complainant, from late September 1978, because records showed the complainant did not live at the home during this time.

His foster mother also gave evidence the complainant did not live in the boys’ home during that time.

“He [the complainant] could not reconcile the differences,” Wallington said. “In this case the inconsistencies must be examined as a fundamental defect in evidence.”

She added: “I find [his] evidence as a whole is not of sufficient weight for a jury to convict.”

A further allegation made by a separate complainant was also thrown out by the magistrate. She said that the complainant had a “cavalier attitude” towards the court and sometimes cited a lack of recall to avoid answering questions.

“It is difficult to see how a jury can convict on the evidence of a man who cannot recall what he said one minute ago,” she said, even when considering the trauma of giving evidence. “I am not satisfied the evidence is of sufficient weight to support a conviction.”

What are we to say about the large scale dismissal of the historical charges brought against Cardinal Pell and the woeful lack of credibility of those that remained – despite the eventual conviction? Indeed, the jury’s decision to convict has unleashed worldwide comment about the Australian legal system.

When you have multiple charges of historical sexual abuse all raised around the same time and revealing the same sort of fundamental errors and inconsistencies, two words come to mind: lies and conspiracy.