George Pell Case: The Wine in the Wardrobe Revisited [Op-Ed]

By Chris Friel (blog)
March 07, 2020

"He didn't say in evidence or committal or anywhere that the wine bottle was in the sink area. He said it was in the alcove area So he always maintained that the wine bottle was there in the alcove. He never maintained it was in that new sink area we know exists now." Mark Gibson, Closing Address.

In Locating the Wine in the Alcove I argued that the video we have of the police interview with Pell in Rome undermines the claim that, as far as the original story goes, the complainant was right about the wine. He did not locate wine in the alcove but rather in what was called a "storage kitchenette" immediately to the left of the door.[i] If this argument can be sustained it is significant for two reasons. First, it removes the Crown's contention that the complainant's knowledge of the "correct" location of the wine enhances his credibility, and second, it positively damages his credibility. This is because the complainant's so-called knowledge of the layout is actually a knowledge about furniture that was only put in after 1996 which in turn suggests a visit or a coach with up-to-date information.

The video of that Rome interview with transcript and comments is in the public domain.

In view of the significance of my claims I characterised the findings as What Everybody Has Overlooked in the Pell Case. My hyperbolic title reflected the fact that the defence do not challenge the Crown's claim, but merely attenuate it by surmising that the complainant may have learned this from a tour. Lest I be misunderstood, however, I was never suggesting for one moment a lack of perception in Pell's team. Rather, I surmised that the defence did not wish to commit themselves to such a strong claim, for example, by suggesting that the police backdated police statements (should it be that some early "evidence" really could be pointed to). Whatever they say officially, I take it that the idea that the complainant was "prepared" before making his allegations had certainly crossed their minds. I simply take that as obvious. If J can lie about the Cardinal he can lie about the corner of the room.

However, and paradoxically, I thought I had something to offer. The paradox here is that as for knowledge of legal principles, detailed knowledge of the case, and intellectual brilliance Bret Walker far exceeds my abilities and yet I appear to be his teacher (actually, the world's teacher). How could I possibly see something that everyone has overlooked? The paradox is resolved simply by the fact that in that my handicap of not having the trial transcript I have had to make up for this by examining carefully the little that I do have, namely, the ruling and the interview. This piece of evidence ("Exhibit W," as it was called in trial) is open to all, and as a matter of fact permanent in a way that police statements are not. With a little insight (which took me quite a long time to apprehend, I have to admit) it's possible to work out what detectives Reed and Sheridan were thinking or not thinking. For example, they clearly had not yet "got their heads round" the concept of an external procession or the idea that the Archbishop would not disrobe with the hoi polloi and so on.

Since writing these essays, though, I have had greater access to some of the transcripts from the second cathedral trial, for example, on the use of the word "kitchenette."[ii] For this reason I can revisit my previous conclusions and adjust them accordingly. That's not a job for one sitting, still, I have started to do this and here I shall come straight to the point that from what I can see my thesis stands up well. There is absolutely nothing from the trial that makes me question the conclusions I arrived at after carefully watching Reed interview Pell.

I will try to make good on that claim by adding that, from what I can see, the overlooked details in the interview were not sufficiently aired in court. From this very public piece of evidence, then, there arises the most enormous tension (to put it mildly) between what the complainant said in 2018 and what the police thought he had said in 2016. To repeat, the double embarrassment was that at first the complainant said that he found wine in an area which was in his day a wardrobe but which had since acquired sinks and second that when he was put in the room he thought nothing had changed. This indicates that, not only did he not have familiarity with the room in 1996 but that he actually had acquired a familiarity with it as it was around 2016 facts that of course are not in his favour.

In what follows, then, I shall select seven phrases from the trial transcript and, without comprehensively reporting on my searches, at least offer my opinion. I will consider: "Poking around," "On the left," "Photo 11," "Planted in the doorway," "Centre/middle of the room," "Slightly concealed" and "Storage kitchenette,"

1. The rationale for looking at poking comes from the ruling, for example, (377) in the light of (431, 424, and 789). Previously I had argued (in a footnote) that an original "poke" in the corridors evolved into a poke inside the sacristy and finally a poke inside some cupboards. Reed had used the word to Pell, and obviously the colloquialism must have come from J. Reed understood it as "walking along" and the context has J and R poking only in the corridors, never in the sacristy. In the Rome account as soon as the boys get inside the room they find the wine. However:

377 Mr Gibson told the jury that the complainant would say that once the boys were inside the Priests' Sacristy, they 'poked around' for a short time. To the left, there was a slightly concealed wooden paneled area. Upon opening a cupboard within, they discovered a bottle of sacramental wine.As they were each taking 'a few swigs' from the bottle, the applicant entered.

By this poke the boys can be transported from the kitchenette immediately to the left to the place on the far left where the wine is. Thus I can find 22/1/1 instances of poking around/poked/poke around in the transcript. In his first, June 2015 statement it is reported, "It was probably around spring, a few months into Archbishop Pell's tenure, that my mate R and I were poking around after church" (page 1130). This "poking around after church" occurs 7 times, and would appear to be the original poke. Of course, we do find pokes associated with corridors, the room (= sacristy), and finally "this cupboard," which as described appears to be the kitchenette, quickly morphing to the alcove area. As Gibson explains in his address to the jury at page 1361-2 J is able to describe:

Entering the room, notice (sic) that there was a wood paneled area resembling a storage kitchenette kind of thing, poking around this cupboard, finding some wine, "Being a wood paneled storage surface with cupboards. It was a little bit concealed. The wine was in a dark brown stain bottle."

Clearly, this gives us Weinberg's (377).

2. The phrase "on the left" is found in Rome as Reed refers to "a wood paneled door. It's been described to a storage area within the room." This furniture is "immediately on the left as you walk in the room." Although at that time Reed is not aware whose room it really was, this can only mean the Priests' Sacristy as the doors of the Archbishop's Sacristy are situated so that only a wall is to the left of the doors.

Gibson twice uses the phrase "immediately on the left" within this context though his burden is to make clear (correctly) that while the complainant presumed that Pell robed there, in fact it was not Pell's room. It would seem that Gibson has a clear sense of what is immediately on the left the erstwhile wardrobe now a kitchenette. However, in the ruling we find four or five uses of "far left" with regards to the vault in the corner (the alcove area). Let's just observe a certain awkwardness here. Certainly, as one walks in through the doors the storage kitchenette is readily to hand (the left hand). But one cannot see the corner ("the far left") as it is obscured by the kitchenette. However, once inside the room if one turns around and looks back one sees the doors now on the left so that the alcove is on the far right as it would be in any photos. For us the temptation here is to suspect semantic slippage. I mean, originally the descriptor was quite clear: immediately to the left (and thus not far left). Later the words "far left" are deployed which perhaps conveys some suggestion of being roughly in line with the original thus disguising the fact that the new place is completely different.

3. In earlier papers I had made the claim that I had searched for any police photos in the public domain and found an absence of interest in the alcove area. I argued from silence: since the police weren't interested in taking and showing photos of the alcove area that area could not have originally been of interest and hence not in the original story. I could only find one exception to this, a white door. I discussed this and argued that it looked cropped, that is, part of a photo of a wider area. I argued this by comparing it with a still from a video of the sacristy taken in a similar position, and I reasoned that the police, who came later to take interest in the alcove area, had to make do with what they had the images created in March 2016.[iii]

Now I know that three photo booklets were produced by the Crown, and many photos were taken of the Cathedral. Once again, I cannot see from the descriptions that my analysis requires correction. It is plain that the police cannot have shown the slightest interest in the area that Portelli would describe in detail and which subsequently became all-important. Not only was the wine found in this place but, apparently, Pell assaulted the boys there as they were crouched in the corner. Yet the precise scene of the crime was of no interest to anyone on Easter Tuesday 2016.

Again, my impression is that the most significant photo discussed by Gibson especially was "Photo 11." This gets 7 mentions. Interestingly, it is also used in reference to the "white door" (which can indeed be seen in Photo 11) though the photo focussing on the white door appears not to have discussed. Also interesting, while a "Photo 12" relates to the alcove area, it is said to be not too clear. All the action, so to speak, is pictured through Photo 11.

Thus as we look from the middle of the room, and pan from left to right, we view the double doors, the storage kitchenette (two sinks), and then the corner with an alcove area that shows a white door (to a vault) adjoining the wall shared by the Archbishop's sacristy.

4. The double doors lead to the corridor that takes one back to the sanctuary area of the Cathedral. It was said that first the boys, and a little later the Archbishop entered those doors. The complainant recalled that they were as pictured, one open the other bolted. He could not recall definitely that Pell locked the door, though it seems as though Pell "blocked" it! Reed tells Pell that he is alleged to have "planted yourself planted yourself in a spot between these two boys and the doorway in the sacristy room." Pell then exposes himself and we learn from Reed, "You're still at this stage standing with your back to the door."

In this narrative it is quite impossible that the boys are in the alcove as Photo 11 shows that they would not have been able to see what was happening at the door. Moreover, the boys are not far away as Pell is able to "step forward" and grab the other boy by the back of the head.

This was also heard in trial that Pell "planted himself in the doorway" (page 1375), again being close enough to grab the other boy. Strangely, this mention arises in the context of Gibson's address to the jury and the boys are clearly in the alcove. Yet generally speaking Gibson seems to understand perfectly well that the alcove is concealed. How, then, do the antagonists know that each other are in the same room together? To my mind this seems impossible to reconcile:

"We were in the corner of the room where the cupboards were and we heard a bit of noise approaching and we were trying to quieten down a little bit, and then he entered the room. He was alone. He was in some robes." This is p. 158. "He planted himself in the doorway and said something like, 'What are you doing in here, or You're in trouble.' There was this moment when we all just sort of froze, and then he undid his trousers, or his belt

Pell then proceeded to orally penetrate R and we are told that "This was towards the centre of the room." After this Pell assaulted J, crouching in the corner.

To force some logic on these images, it seems that the noisy boys larking in the alcove suddenly heard someone approaching from outside (recall, although the altar servers had returned and the hive of activity was just about to begin a deathly hiatus had fallen upon these unfortunate five minutes). Maybe Pell heard the boys just out of site and called out to the concealed ones? More likely, the boys (or at least the other boy) moved to the centre of the room logic forces this upon us. Maybe then the other boy could see what Pell was up to. Trouble is, it is apparent from other texts that the complainant was still in the corner and so he at least could not have witnessed the parting of the alb. Nor even its raising.

5. Let's now turn to the "centre of the room." Obviously, this bears the same meaning as the "middle of the room," the phrase used by Reed, "The boys were terrified at this stage and it's been described you were holding R at this time with two hands on the back of his head before stopping, at which time you stood back. R standing in the middle of the room beside him." To be clear, then, it was the other boy who was in the middle of the room and who was Pell's victim at that moment.

However, in the interview it is clear that Pell had been notified in advance of the charges in what in the trial was called a "summary document," referenced by Richter (p. 1281). We learn that just before he met with the police Pell was informed that "After choir the complainants were caught by the accused drinking wine in the sacristy. The accused shepherded the boys into the centre of the room and forced his penis into the complainant's mouth."

So to use a metaphor, the words "centre" or "middle" (of the room) act like a textual baton that remains constant as one story relays to the next (completely different) story. For at first the movement is clearly from the doorway to the centre, and this because of Pell's shepherding, with both boys now being in the middle, and J suffering. However, in the end the movement is from the corner to the centre, this because the boys hear Pell, though only one ends up in the centre, and it is the other boy who is the victim.

The sense behind this nonsense is presumably as follows. In order to escape from the embarrassment of the complainant finding wine in the wardrobe (which was meant to show that he had once been in the room in 1996 but which actually suggests he had been there in 2016) the discovery of the wine now takes place in the "correct" place even as the assault happens in a slightly more sensible place, out of view from anyone passing along the corridor and it was a busy corridor so that the strange happenings were less likely to be detected. Unfortunately, the fact of being so secluded would mean that the boys would miss out on all the action in the doorway. The new narrative solves various problems, then, and moreover, the two accounts are not completely different as somehow the textual baton "middle of the room" holds them together. Despite such cleverness, however, the final result is hardly much of an improvement as Pell's shepherding action ensures that the assault is (slightly) less noticeable. But now the move from the corner to the centre just makes matters worse as Pell has less privacy. In any case, the whole invention with its several changes reeks of artifice.

6. Let us just touch on the word "concealed." We found 16 instances in the trial transcript, and we cited one of them above. Of course, the Rome interview knew nothing about "concealed" areas in the "corner." Nor do the police ever speak of the vault or even use the word "cupboard," though Pell introduces them both.

7. Finally, let us turn to "kitchenette." The word is not uttered in Rome and nor do the police ever speak of "sinks" or anything like that. The only furniture mentioned is the "storage area" immediately to the left of the door. Perhaps had Reed mentioned the sinks that he had seen and perhaps had Pell been alert some progress might have been made: as Reed will learn in the next two months after having received statements from Portelli and Potter, the area stored albs. Pell almost said as much though at the time the interview was at cross purposes with regards to which sacristy was being referred to.

Still, it seems as though the complainant had used the word "storage kitchenette." Thus apparently on a "page 157" which I have not seen it is repeated (on pages 1361-2) that, "We entered the room and noticed to the left of us as we entered there was a wooden paneled area resembling a storage kitchenette kind of thing." Now, the effort is made to convey the idea that this was not actually where the wine was located, but rather, the boys "made their way" (see here the majority's language at 44) all the way to the far left so that they found wine in the correct place. But the damage is done, for it is no more possible to notice a kitchenette that isn't there than draw out a wine bottle from such ontologically challenged furniture. Worse, and as Richter would point out to the jury, when he was faced with the (real, actual, and existing) 2016 kitchenette on the walk-through he affirmed that it was just the same. But if truth is "of what is that it is and of what is not that it is not" then that just can't be true. The 2016 kitchenette was a wardrobe back in 1996. No matter how the complainant changed his original story about finding wine where water should be, the miracle of the wardrobe defeats him.

And yet. And yet, here is Gibson before the jury:

"So, I pose the question to you how does J know that that was where the wine was kept as opposed to him thinking or someone thinking that it might be kept in the altar servers sacristy given the nature of what it was. How does he know that the wine is kept in that area if he has not been there at the time of the first incident? Portelli described the wine being in a dark bottle, p.569. Question: "Do you remember the bottle in which the Seven Hills sacramental wine came?". Answer: "Well, as for all wine, it's in a dark bottle. You couldn't see the contents because the bottle was so dark with quite a large label front and back so the contents were nearly invisible", p.572, line 22. So the Crown submits to you that this is important, this feature of the case. You wouldn't know the layout of the room, the concealed nature of that part of the room, the kitchenette that was there, the wood paneled cupboards that were there, that the wine was stored there, without having been there, we submit, when these things, the subject of the first incident, occurred to J and R."

Patience is a virtue, and so let us answer patiently. How did he know where the wine was kept? He didn't, and in his original story he located it in a wardrobe and in his original story he just never mentioned the alcove in the corner or concealed cupboards and the like. How did he know the layout of the room? He didn't really know about the key details and the "knowledge" that he actually had pertained to the recent past, something he could not possibly be remembering from 1996. What about the colour of the wine? It's true that there is some slight confusion here as it seems fairly clear that only white wine was used. We are not sure how Portelli could be mistaken, but we would note that the complainant was not consistent in the matter.[iv] Nor have we been able to identify the colour of the wine by the sinks in that mysterious photo 11 or find out what colour wine St Patrick's used in 2016.

But we are repeating ourselves. As we summarised it in What Everybody has Overlooked:

The Crown claim, and still claim, that the complainant's credibility was enhanced because he located the wine in the correct area of the sacristy, that is, in the alcove in the corner. To this the defence reply that maybe he got that knowledge from a tour back in 1996. But an attentive viewing of the interview with Pell and the police in Rome shows that originally the complainant did not locate the wine correctly at all. Beyond doubt the original location was a storage area that may be called a kitchenette as it contains two sinks. When the complainant visited the sacristy with the police he looked at that kitchenette and said that it was just the same as 1996. But the police were to learn after the interview that in 1996 that "kitchenette" was a wardrobe. The sinks had not been installed and the wood panels that apparently the complainant had described so well were not there. It was used for hanging albs.

So it is simply not true that, at first, the complainant correctly located the wine. What he did was place the wine where in 2016 it might reasonably be thought that the wine would be located and incidentally, he got the colour of the wine quite wrong, as in 1996 only white was used. But what this shows is that he could only have acquired his knowledge at a much later date, either from a visit or from coaching an explanation that naturally he denied. Manifestly, this puts a completely different light on the complainant's credibility, indeed it destroys it. But these facts, which are very clear from open sources, appear not to have been appreciated. It's important, then, that these points are made known before the High Court rules in a couple of weeks' time. The jury, who may have been understandably misled by the Crown's claims, would surely have taken a different view had they understood the evidence properly.

Our argument was based on carefully watching the Rome video, something that has been transcribed. [v] This paper asserts that an examination of the key words in the trial transcript to do with finding the wine has not changed our mind. Indeed, in an effort to be consistent on the detail about the "centre of the room" we found no less than five shifts where the boys were, their direction of travel, what caused the movement, the number of boys in the middle, and who was made to suffer.

One final point is that despite the fact that the Rome video was discussed in court ("Exhibit W") it seems to us that no substantial discussion of its implications were undertaken. For the thought processes of detective Reed and the explicit claims that he makes give yield a narrative that would shift dramatically in the next couple of years. This is in the public domain and there can be no excuse for missing it now. For this reason among others we hope our repetition will be forgiven.

(The writer Doctor Chris Friel taught maths for many years before undertaking, first, a masters in Philosophy, and second, doctoral research on value and credibility in the thought of Bernard Lonergan. In 2018 he investigated at length the "purposely timed hysteria" of the pro-Israel hawks in the UK amidst the antisemitism crisis, and commencing in 2019 has devoted an equally lengthy exploration of the Cardinal George Pell case and its context).

Also by Chris Friel:

Evidence in trial of Cardinal George Pell confusing and inconsistent

Hiatus theory in Pell trial looking increasingly wobbly

Cardinal George Pell conviction, uncanniest of them all

Where were the concelebrant priests if Pell was in the sacristy?

Juggling of times in Pell case only raises more questions

Pell alibi looms as crucial factor in High Court appeal

Chorister supported Crown case against Pell

The Pell case - "Having reviewed the whole of the evidence..."

Cardinal Pell's Innocence or Guilt - now a matter for the High Court

Credibility of George Pell accuser under scrutiny

A Critique of Ferguson and Maxwell

How the Interview Changed the Story

Cardinal George Pell learned of charges against him in Rome Interview

Related story: High Court of Appeal in Australia to review conviction of Cardinal Pell


[i] For a transcript see:




[v] This transcript that includes some comments spelling out the narrative shifts from 2016 to 2018.


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