The lead detective in charge of investigating historical sex offence allegations against George Pell has been accused by the cardinal’s lawyers of charging him without examining conflicting evidence from witnesses.
Detective Acting Sergeant Christopher Reed, who was the lead investigator in Operation Tethering, a taskforce investigating Cardinal Pell that began in March 2013, was called to give evidence on Thursday during the final day of a hearing that will determine whether the cardinal stands trial.
Cardinal Pell, 76, faces multiple historical sexual offence charges involving multiple complainants. Details of the charges are yet to be revealed. He has repeatedly and emphatically denied the allegations.
The cardinal’s barrister, Robert Richter, QC, suggested that police had laid charges against Australia’s most senior Catholic without properly backing up the claims of alleged victims, including one who had given conflicting accounts of his alleged abuse.
Mr Richter took aim at one man who had spoken to police about allegations surrounding Cardinal Pell calling him a ‘‘bit of nutter.’’ He also described one of the complainants in the case as a ‘‘very troubled soul’’ and questioned why police didn’t check his psychiatric history.
Mr Richter suggested that if there are allegations made against prominent people “you need to assess the state of mind of the person making the allegation.”
Detective Acting Sergeant Reed told the court it was not always standard police practise to make those requests and that assessment was made at the time of talking to the complainant.
The court has previously heard that the same accuser gave police differing evidence in his statement to the information he conveyed to ABC journalist Louise Milligan during an interview on the 7.30 program.
The discrepancies related to the nature of alleged sexual offending and the placement of the cardinal’s hand during an alleged sexual assault.
Detective Acting Sergeant Reed was also pressed on a police decision to lay charges for another sexual alleged assault, in which Cardinal Pell is accused of exposing himself in his clerical robes after a Sunday Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne.
Mr Richter argued the court had heard evidence it would have been impossible for the cardinal to reveal himself without somebody helping him to remove his robes.
‘‘If it was completely unfeasible then there would have been no charges laid,’’ Detective Acting Sergeant Reed responded.
Mr Richter asked if the allegations against Cardinal Pell were treated like any other, or “was there a zeroing-in on him?”
Detective Acting Sergeant Reed said he disagreed with the statement “in its entirety”.
A white car pulled up out the front of the Melbourne’s Magistrate Court just before 9.30am on Thursday as it had done each day of the hearing, but the crowd and onlookers had dwindled.
Only a handful of supporters, holding placards in support of Cardinal Pell, stood outside the court.
Further down Williams Street, a small group of protesters, clutched signs condemning the Catholic Church.
The cardinal was mobbed by an awaiting media pack and for the first time since the hearing began three weeks ago, he greeted them with a ‘‘hello’’ as he stepped out of the car.
Cardinal Pell was escorted by police guard and within minutes he was inside the building.
As he walked into the small court room on the fifth level of the Melbourne’s Magistrate’s Court for the last time, an Easter egg had been left on the chair by a supporter, who called out: ‘‘That Easter egg is for George Pell.’’
Some charges being faced by Cardinal Pell have been withdrawn because one complainant died and another was deemed unfit to testify.
On Wednesday, the cardinal’s defence questioned whether the investigation was a ‘‘get Pell operation’’.
Mr Richter suggested Tethering started as an operation looking for a crime when no crimes had been reported.
Police have described it as an ‘‘intel probe.’’
George Pell hearing: police quizzed on why they didn’t ask for diary
Detective says police did not seek out Pell’s diary records or archival information on his movements in relation to alleged event
Thu 29 Mar 2018 06.38 BST
The committal hearing into sexual offence allegations against Cardinal George Pell has concluded, with senior detectives saying they did not ask Pell for his diary records nor approach St Patrick’s Cathedral for archival information about his movements.
On Thursday Det Chris Reed was cross-examined by Pell’s defence barrister, Robert Richter QC. Richter pressed Reed on events alleged to have occurred at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral in 1996 after Sunday mass while Pell was dressed in his robes. Richter said a review of a church newspaper as well as church records revealed Pell only gave mass at the church on two dates in 1996, both in December and after he became Archbishop of Melbourne.
Richter added many former choir boys who sang at the church gave evidence that Pell was never alone in his robes when he gave mass, because he was always accompanied by other church staff who helped him put on and take off his robes, or surrounded by parishioners with whom he spoke on the steps of the church afterwards.
But police had not taken formal statements from many of those choir boys, Richter said, putting it to Reed that they were not taken because they would be “favourable to Pell’s defence”.
“If Pell … has always had hangers-on and Pell didn’t hang around [after mass] … those are critical bits of information,” Richter said.
Reed said detectives had not obtained the exact dates Pell gave mass in 1996 because they had executed search warrants at the Melbourne Archdiocese. But the archives of the church, which included records of dates Pell gave mass, were kept at a different location, Richter told the court.
“Warrants were never executed at the archives of the diocese, which were in a different place,” Richter put to Reed. “There was no warrant for that. Ever.”
“No there wasn’t,” Reed replied. “I didn’t know where the archives were.”
Richter then asked: “Did anyone ever ask Cardinal Pell to show them his diaries?”
“No,” Reed replied.
The court also heard police did not reinterview a witness who made allegations about Pell in a formal police statement that were different to allegations he later made to ABC journalist Louise Milligan.
Reed responded that this would not necessarily be cause to reinterview a complainant. “My experience in dealing with especially historical matters is what’s stated and what has actually occurred are entirely different things, depending on personal perception,” he said.
Richter said police had not interviewed anyone who could corroborate evidence against Pell.
Reed responded that this was “not uncommon”. “I don’t think I have ever been involved in a child sexual assault matter where someone has seen the event,” he said.
Despite some of the complainants making serious allegations of abuse against other people, Richter put it to Reed police did not focus on those allegations closely because they were “zeroing in” on Pell.
“I disagree,” Reed responded. He said other complaints were referred to a separate police command.
The evidence followed the cross-examination on Wednesday afternoon of Snr Const David Rae, who told the court it was not his practice to take notes during the first conversation with someone making a complaint of historical abuse.
Richter put it to him that not taking notes was a breach of police procedures.
“No, it’s my practice,” Rae replied.
“Your practice then,” Richter replied, “is appalling.”
The committal hearing concluded on Thursday after running for almost four weeks. However, it was closed to the public and the media during its first 1.5 weeks to protect complainants who were cross-examined. Once the courtroom at the Melbourne magistrates’ court was reopened, former choir boys, family members of complainants and police were cross-examined by Pell’s defence team.
Magistrate Belinda Wallington will now consider whether there is enough evidence to order Pell to stand trial. He does not need to enter a plea unless the case goes to trial, though he has strenuously denied all of the allegations. Further details of the charges cannot be revealed for legal reasons.
Wallington is expected to hand down her decision in April.
Police deny ‘zeroing in’ on George Pell
A detective who led the historical sex offence investigation into Cardinal George Pell has denied “zeroing in” on Australia’s highest-ranked Catholic.
The police investigation into Pell has come under repeated attack by lawyers during a hearing to determine if the 76-year-old should stand trial.
Robert Richter QC on Thursday said Pell was targeted for “special treatment” by detectives from Sano Taskforce, which investigates historical sex abuse.
While questioning lead investigator Sergeant Christopher Reed, the barrister said a man made horrendous allegations against a nun before alleging Pell committed a sex offence against him.
“Do you say, and I’m not attributing any blame to you, do you say that the allegation against Cardinal Pell was treated like any other allegation?” the barrister asked on Thursday.
“Or was there a zeroing in on him to the extent that far more serious allegations against a nun were not pursued by the Sano Taskforce?”
“I disagree with that statement in its entirety,” Sgt Reed replied.
He said the matter was referred to a local investigator, but no charges were laid.
The investigation into Pell, code named Operation Tethering, began in March 2013 before any crime had been reported.
Mr Richter suggested the investigation was given a higher priority in April 2015 due to a royal commission and public concern in Victoria about clergy abuse.
“There was a lot of concern because of the public sentiment in and around the hearings and the pressure coming out of (a Victorian location),” he said.
“What would have made it a priority, I suggest to you, is you wanted more resources because of political pressure, if I can put it that way in a generic sense, to boost resources and inquire to what happened.”
Sgt Reed did not agree.
Most of the allegations were not backed up by other evidence and there was contradictory information about Pell’s presence at certain locations and interactions with people, Mr Richter said.
“In the end, apart from (two accusers) supporting each other, there’s no corroborating evidence for various complainants in this matter,” the barrister added.
“I would disagree, in relation to some … there is time and place, people were together at the time and place,” Sgt Reed said.
Mr Richter pointed out there were a number of people at a swimming pool where an offence allegedly occurred, who did not see anything inappropriate.
Sgt Reed said that was not uncommon.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a sex assault matter where someone has seen the assault,” Sgt Reed replied.
Mr Richter suggested it was rare for sex offences to happen in a public place in front of witnesses.
Magistrate Belinda Wallington said: “Sitting in the sex offence (court) list on a regular basis, I can say I have”.
Sgt Reed was the last witness to give evidence at the committal hearing, which began on March 5.
More than 30 witnesses gave evidence in open court, while the complainants testified behind closed doors, as required by law in sex offence cases.
The defence and prosecution will make written submissions and return to court on April 17 for legal arguments.
Pell, who denies all charges, has been excused from appearing on that day, but will return to court at a later date when Ms Wallington hands down her decision.
George Pell committal: Detectives criticised for not taking statements favourable to Pell
ABC News Australia
29 March 2018
A police officer has rejected accusations detectives targeted Cardinal George Pell, as the handling of the police investigation into historical sexual offence allegations again came under attack in court.
On the final day of evidence, defence barrister Robert Richter QC criticised detectives for failing to take statements from nuns, choir members and other church officials which he told the court were favourable to Cardinal Pell.
“That’s an awful lot of choir [members] saying relevant things and no statements were taken,” Mr Richter said.
“What was known was favourable to Pell’s defence and they just reinforce it, so it’s important to get a view of all the choir boys.”
But Sergeant Christopher Reed, who is the police informant in the case, said detectives had already obtained statements from other choir members who said they had never seen Cardinal Pell, who was an archbishop at the time, alone.
He said additional statements along the same lines would not have taken matters any further for police.
Mr Richter also asked why police had failed to reinterview witnesses who had supplied statements in a dossier of material supplied to police by the defence.
Sergeant Reed said he did not feel it was necessary for them to also make police statements.
Officer quizzed about treatment of Cardinal Pell
Under cross-examination, he told the court if the allegations against Cardinal Pell had been “completely unfeasible there would have been no charges laid”.
Mr Richter also asked Sergeant Reed why he had not asked one of the complainants for details of their psychiatric history.
“If there are allegations … made against fairly prominent people you need to assess the state of mind … of the person making the allegation,” he said.
Sergeant Reed responded that was an assessment to be made at the time of talking to the complainant.
Mr Richter asked if the allegations against Cardinal Pell were treated like any other, or “was there a zeroing-in on him?”
Sergeant Reed said he disagreed with the statement “in its entirety”.
Cardinal Pell is fighting historical sexual offence allegations involving multiple complainants.
He strenuously denies the allegations.
Sergeant Reed is the final witness to give evidence before the hearing concludes.
It is expected to be several weeks before Magistrate Belinda Wallington rules on whether there is enough evidence to commit Cardinal Pell to stand trial.
QC accuses police of ‘get Pell’ tunnel vision
Police investigating Cardinal George Pell had “tunnel vision” in their pursuit of him and set up an operation to investigate him a year before any allegations of criminal activity were reported, a court has heard.
Amid explosive testimony yesterday, the court heard police intended to arrest Cardinal Pell when he returned to Melbourne to give evidence at the child abuse royal commission, but he ultimately testified from Rome, citing health concerns that prevented him from travelling.
Cardinal Pell, Australia’s highest-ranking Catholic, is charged with historical sex offences relating to multiple complainants. Today is the last day of scheduled witnesses in a four-week committal hearing to determine whether he will stand trial on the charges.
State police were questioned yesterday by Cardinal Pell’s barrister, Robert Richter QC, who accused them of not interviewing potential witnesses, failing to check the psychiatric history of complainants and not seeking records such as the cardinal’s diary.
Detective Superintendent Paul Sheridan told Melbourne Magistrates Court that Operation Tethering was established in 2013 as an “intel probe” to see whether Cardinal Pell had committed serious crimes that had gone unreported.
“Operation Tethering, that wasn’t a ‘get Pell’ operation was it?” Mr Richter asked. Superintendent Sheridan replied: “I guess you could term it the way you did but I wouldn’t term it that way.”
The court heard that Cardinal Pell’s association with a convicted pedophile priest was a trigger for the police investigation.
Inspector David Rae. Picture: Stuart McEvoy.
An internal police document from September 2015, headed “inappropriate behaviour”, mentioned Cardinal Pell’s cohabitation with “notorious pedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale” at Ballarat East in the 1970s, and his apparent close relationship with Ridsdale. One of the primary investigators on Operation Tethering, Senior Constable David Rae, told the court that two of Ridsdale’s victims had mentioned Cardinal Pell.
One had reported being with Ridsdale and being introduced to Cardinal Pell at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Ballarat. Mr Richter clarified that this man had not made a complaint against Cardinal Pell and was not a witness in the case.
Ridsdale’s other victim had alleged Cardinal Pell walked by while Ridsdale sexually assaulted her, the court heard. “In relation to Pell, that was nonsense, I suggest,” Mr Richter said. “I suggest otherwise,” Senior Constable Rae said.
Mr Richter said no complainant came forward for the first year of Operation Tethering and the operation was “looking for crimes rather than … investigating crimes that had been reported”.
The court has previously heard some of the allegations relating to Cardinal Pell were specific in time and location, but Mr Richter said yesterday that police did not ask for the cardinal’s diaries which recorded his movements. He asked why police had not taken psychiatric histories of the complainants. Senior Constable Rae said: “At face value, I take people at their word.”
Mr Richter asked why police did not seek more witnesses to corroborate the claims. “If they’re tunnel-visioned and determined to proceed to charges … It would be horrible if an investigator didn’t decide to pursue obvious lines of questioning if he’s afraid the answer might destroy his case.”