Philip Wilson’s dead letter day
Fr Frank Brennan in Eureka Street
The show trial of Archbishop Philip Wilson has backfired badly causing hurt to many people, most especially victims of child sexual abuse who thought the law was being rightly applied to put an errant Catholic bishop in the frame.
Wilson was charged under a provision of the New South Wales Crimes Act, section 316, which has hardly ever been used. It’s a provision which was introduced in 1990. It was reviewed by the New South Wales Law Reform Commission in 1999 and comprehensively trashed. Some commissioners thought the provision should be abolished. Others thought it should be retained. Read on…
The following appeared in Gerard Henderson’s popular Media Watch Dog No. 435, 7 December 2018.
HOW THE DRUM REPORTED FR. PHILLIP WILSON’S CONVICTION BUT IGNORED HIS ACQUITTAL
Fr Philip Wilson, the former Catholic Archbishop of Adelaide, was found guilty by Magistrate Robert Stone in Newcastle Local Court on 3 July 2018 of failing to report a child sex abuse allegation. The prosecution maintained that Fr Wilson had been told that a Catholic priest was a child sex abuser in the mid-1970s and that he had failed to report this matter to NSW Police between April 2004 and January 2006 – as required by Section 316A of the NSW Crimes Act.
That night Julia Baird presented The Drum on ABC TV with a panel that comprised Dee Madigan, Stephen O’Doherty, Megan Motto and Karen Middleton. It was a total pile-on against Fr Wilson. So much so that even Dr Baird declared “there seems to be a consensus on the panel here” – having previously bagged the Catholic Church herself for what she described as “obstructive clericalism”.
The pile-on occurred despite the fact that neither the panellists nor the presenter had read Magistrate Stone’s judgment. Indeed, the judgment is still not readily available –as Fr Frank Brennan documents in his article titled “Philip Wilson’s dead letter day” in today’s edition of Eureka Street.
Yesterday in the Newcastle District Court, Judge Roy Ellis overturned Magistrate Stone’s decision. He found that Fr Wilson should not have been convicted beyond reasonable doubt. Judge Ellis, while believing that the complainant in this case was an honest witness, said that he was not satisfied with the accuracy of some of the complainant’s recollections. He found that Fr Wilson was an honest and forthright witness. Judge Ellis also held that it was possible for entirely honest individuals like the complainant to have false memories.
So what did The Drum do last night with respect to Judge Ellis’ decision? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. The case was covered by ABC TV News but ignored by The Drum and 7.30.
When Fr Wilson was convicted by Magistrate Stone, the ABC reported that this was a finding of international significance and discussed the case at length. However, when Fr Wilson was acquitted by Judge Ellis, the matter was not covered by The Drum or 7.30.
The decision in R v Phillip Edward Wilson has been released with certain names redacted.