Convicted Priest May Face New Charges|
By Ian Munro
The Age [Australia]
August 19, 2004
Convicted pedophile Gerald Francis Ridsdale may face new charges after the Director of Public Prosecutions this week decided to reconsider a decision not to prosecute new allegations.
Nine more victims have filed complaints against Ridsdale, a former priest, since he was convicted in 1994 on 46 charges of sexual abuse throughout central and western Victoria.
The DPP, Paul Coghlan, QC, has offered to meet victims who have come forward since the conviction, and said he would reconsider prosecuting Ridsdale, 70, over their allegations.
Attorney-General Rob Hulls welcomed Mr Coghlan's review, which follows comments by Premier Steve Bracks encouraging victims to come forward. Mr Bracks said he hoped victims could have their day in court.
In a letter to Mr Hulls, Mr Coghlan said the decision not to prosecute was based on the fact that the new allegations could have been heard at the original trial. Responding to what he called "disquiet in the community", Mr Coghlan said it was important the public have confidence in the justice system.
"The group who are of the greatest concern are the victims. I have not met them. I am prepared to do so," Mr Coghlan wrote in a letter to Mr Hulls. "It follows that such meetings only have a point if I am prepared to reconsider my decision. I am prepared to do so. I will arrange for the victims to be contacted and informed of my decision."
The initial decision not to prosecute - revealed by The Age on Monday - was influenced by Ridsdale's 18-year sentence, with a 15-year minimum, which was described by the Court of Appeal as "unusually long" and a "virtual life sentence".
Ridsdale was convicted of offences against 21 children between 1961 and 1982. The latest alleged offence, among the new allegations, was in 1980.
The mother of two of the men making the latest allegations said she was "speechless and over the moon" at the news that a prosecution would be reconsidered.
The woman, who cannot be identified, said her eldest son, 35, revealed only two years ago that he was abused, although she had suspected it when Ridsdale was first convicted.
"Victims of abuse can't come forward until they are ready. (Prosecuting Ridsdale) will make such a difference to the boys," she said. "It's what they need to help them heal and keep progressing. From a mother's point of view, I want him punished for the innocence he took away."
The new allegations against Ridsdale follow a four-year investigation by Ballarat Detective Sergeant Kevin Carson.
A spokeswoman for Mr Hulls confirmed he had received the letter from Mr Coghlan and he was pleased the DPP was meeting the victims.