Opinion: 'Get Pell' an unhealthy endorsement for Victorian Justice, regardless
By Chris Friel
April 5, 2020
The allegations of sexual abuse against Cardinal Pell were investigated by the Victorian Police, in particular by Taskforce SANO. This note gathers together some pertinent questions. In the wake of the Carl Beech case in the UK Sir Richard Henriques was asked to report on Operation Midland,[i] and I would urge that something of the order of a judge led inquiry is needed to understand Operation Tethering. This somewhat disordered list is written in the hope that one day we may get a comprehensive insight into what was going on.
1. Tethering. We begin with this get Pell operation (Robert Richter), or as Paul Sheridan termed it, the Intel Probe, set up in 2013.[ii] Clearly, that was before R had died (in 2014) and J had complained (in 2015). Apparently, it was the inspiration of Michael Dwyer.[iii] How did it come about? Here we would point out the association with Byline (Lucie Morris Marrs platform) and Exaro News who were so heavily involved in the Carl Beech case.[iv]
In our opinion, the Pell affair has been haunted by the ghost of Southwell,[v] the allegations of 2002 forming the remote conditions for the campaign against Pell. We would surmise, however, that the Beech case formed the more proximate conditions. In the wake of the lurid stories from Westminster it might have seemed that the time was ripe to pay Pell another visit. Just as the revelations about celebrity Jimmy Savile created a climate in which the bizarre allegations of Beech were deemed credible and true, so the abuses in Ballarat set the conditions for Dwyers hunch.
2. The goal of Tethering.A related issue regards the motive. Assuming that Tethering was no detached and disinterested fact-finding investigation, even so the real motivation might differ in each instance. Some may have been emotionally involved with Rs family, others motivated by a hatred of the ideology associated with a Conservative Cardinal, others still might have seized on the chance for a distraction.[vi]
2.1 Divisions within the police. Moreover, the fact that Dwyer was pulled from the investigation hints that not all in the police were of the same mind. Perhaps the person in charge of Pells case, detective Chris Reed, was under pressure somehow from his superiors. Such forces and factions need exploration.
2.2. Personnel changes.As well as Dwyer there is Detective Doug Smith. [vii] The head of Sano retired in March 2016 and it would seem from his TV appearances that he was closely involved with Louise Milligan. The early edition of Cardinalnever mentions him, yet he would also appear to be connected with Andrew La Greca who only officially came on the scene in May 2016 when Milligan contacted the chorister out of the blue. La Greca had to be prompted in recalling Rs name yet later he would be eloquent on his cheeky smile, and in the trial he would provide too good to be true recall, such as the doorstops that kept the route open for the choristers return.[viii] Smith seems heavily connected with Clan and other support groups, and it is worth asking why he had retired when he did he had already crossed swords with Richter on the Theophanous affair.
2.3 Links to the Get Pell network.A further dividing line regards what can be termed the Get Pell Network.[ix] Not everyone in the police will be equally linked in. So, it seems to us, that Milligan advocates for Mary, Rs mother (not so much the father!). We note that after the verdict it was reported that Chris Reed gave Mary a hug and that he was said to have sat next to Vivian Waller for the Canberra appeal. The lines of communication between various sections of the police with media, victim support groups, lawyers, and interested parties must be traced.
2.4 Information differences.Surprisingly, perhaps, not everyone in the police was equally in the know. Not only were they singing from different hymn sheets, but some had booklets with pages torn out! At any rate, it was reported in court that on 31 July 2015 Reed travelled to North Melbourne to take a second police statement from the complainant and there he clarified that allegations referred to 1996 not 1997 as per the first witness statement in June. Yet just before Christmas the police put out a press release stating that they were specifically interested in boys aged 14. This can only mean that those putting out the call for information (Sharon Darcy) were working on the old idea of a 1997 assault. This is very puzzling.[x] Also surprising is the fact that early in December (and not before then, apparently) the police executed search warrants from Church organisations so as to establish the dates when Pell said Mass the year of the assault would be at the centre of their horizons.
2.4.1 Police databases.A technical question here relates to how information is uploaded and stored, an issue that requires an understanding of police systems, old and new (such as Interpose).[xi] Did Reed pass on his July information immediately? If not, why not?
3. Narrative shifts.In general, the case is marked by changes in the story whereby what the complainant alleged altered according to a process of trial and error, seemingly as a result of what the police discovered. These include the fact that Pell joined a procession immediately after Mass, that he had his own sacristy, and significantly, that there was no kitchenette in the storage area immediately to the left of the door (which is where Reed told Pell that the boys found wine and also where the crimes began). In key ways the story would shift after the police spoke to Portelli and Potter.
The police would have become aware that the complainant was describing the recent sacristy and that his recollections were not contemporaneous. As a result, further inquiries would or should have been discussed if not implemented, re-interviewing the complainant, for example. What tasks emerged as a result of the police discoveries?
The narrative shifts must be described and ideally explained. The important task is to draw up a critical time line of relevant events.
3.1 The year of the allegations.For example, and to return to (2.4) just a day or so after the first witness statement the police formulated a particular task, numbered as Task 15 (so the court heard) on Interpose, namely, to establish when Pell said Mass presumably thinking that the relevant year was in 1997. It would be interesting to know when exactly that task was adjusted when the year of the assault was reassigned to 1996 as this would indicate when that information became disseminated or even whether aspects of the July statement had been backdated.
3.2 When Rs parents were called.Milligan tells us that the police contacted Mary before John and that when with John they had not the one hours expected session, but five hours as he had kept the psychological reports. Milligan provides no dates, but these are crucial. For if at first the complainant had claimed that the assault happened in 1997, in the spring, a few months after Pells tenure, and if, as Milligan seems to imply, Rs decline began in Easter rather than September 1997 (which was when R had some psychological assessments) then it would have become apparent that Js year was not tenable if Pells assault caused Rs decline.[xii]
Here it is worth spelling out that 1997, in the spring, a few months after Pells tenure contains a tension that it would be expected that Reed would have to resolve. For Pells tenure began in July 1996 and he was inaugurated in August. Still, that tension admitted more than one resolution. What happened (we are told) was that the year was corrected to 1996. But it must be appreciated that Reed could not have worked out just what date the complainant had intended. For he might have said, 1997, in the spring, in what I thought was just a few months after Pells tenure given that he was hardly around in 1996, saying only two Sunday masses, as it happens, but after he had regularly said mass, and thus quite a fewmonths after his tenure. In truth, this is a far more plausible way of resolving the tension. First, it seems extraordinary that, having had several months to think about the assault before going to the police, and having discussed it with his mother and Bernard Barrett, and having won a scholarship to St Kevins lasting just two years, 1996 and 1997, dates that would have had personal memorability, especially as, in that second year a Christmas recording for St Patricks centenary was cut, J would inexplicably forget when he was in years 7 and 8. Second, it does not seem at all surprising (given that at least one mistake was made), that J, if, he did not, as it would appear, consult an official record, got a bit confused about when the tenure started. Third, given that Tethering was established in 2013, we would expect Reed (or someone in Flinders Street) would have known that Pell was assigned to St Patricks in 1996 and for that reason the June mistake would have been corrected on the spot.[xiii]
In short, it really does seem that the complainant meant 1997, after all, and in any case, that was the more likely interpretation.
But then, we would expect Reed to have had some internal discussions about this. And, given that he actually did make a trip in July to clarify the anomaly, we would expect that fact to be recorded as a task in the Interpose database, or be the subject of some internal discussions in which the alternatives are mooted. Of course, we are especially interested into how the information gleaned from John inputs here and also just when the 1997 clarification was widely disseminated, or why it wasnt if it was withheld. The suspicion presents itself that the year was only changed to make the assault the cause of Rs decline.
3.3 How the choristers were called.It was reported (correctly but confusingly)[xiv] that the police identified the choristers only in 2017. This is extraordinary, but in fact (from what was heard in court) it seems as though the police already had some names but only in 2017 got down to establishing a definitive list. Clearly, it would be worth knowing who were called early, and to repeat, when La Greca was interviewed. If he was contacted before May 2016 a question can be put to Milligan as to how she got his details, and in any case, it seems surprising that, with colleague Andy Burns, the journalists contacted so many choristers independent of the police.
4. Key documents in the Brief of Evidence.[xv]Plainly, many key documents are not in the public domain: the witness statements (with diagrams showing the marking of just where the wine was found and the assaults happened), the walkthrough, the submissions to and from the OPP, the search warrants, the task list on Interpose, internal meetings feeding back to the police as the investigation progressed (Reed after finding out that the place where the complainant had located the wine was a wardrobe and so on), the summary document sent to Pell, and any communications to the media department. Also, of course, the trial documents and the transcript of the complainants cross-examination.
As indicated, these documents will prove essential if a critical time line is to be established (one that can ascertain the causes of the narrative shifts). A further issue regards the sharing (or not) of information that perhaps ought to be shared (were the OPP told of the wine in the wardrobe?) and of the integrity of the documents (were witness statements altered or back-dated?).
Naturally any documents relating to the bugging of Pells phone would be informative.
4.1 Legal documents received.Also of interest are any updates from the complainants legal team. For example, Mark Gibson learned via an informal conversation in a break in the first trial that the Archbishops Sacristy was out of action in 1996. Was the brief of evidence updated?
5. The pace of the inquiry.A general issue that has been intimated already regards the pace of the investigation. Ideally, one would suppose that the police were engaged in fact finding. However, it was lamented by Pells team that they showed little interest in pursuing lines of inquiry that might prove exculpatory (calling Father Egan, for example, or the altar servers[xvi]). Here we draw attention to the tardiness in informing Pell, the partial information supplied in the summary document, the failure to ask Pell about his diary, the slowness in beginning Task 15, the calling of the choristers and the altar servers, and so on. The point about pace relates to (2) and the fact, as it would appear, that Tethering was not solely a detached and disinterested effort at fact-finding, but rather that the long-drawn out investigation dove-tailed with a sophisticated media operation.
5.1 Coincidences. Here we can note the several coincidences that abound: the inception of Sano with the Royal Commission and Kevin Carsons flawed inquiry[xvii] about Ballarat suicides; the activity of Milligan in May 2015 when (communicating with the police?) she thought to pay Phil Scott a visit, her interactions on Twitter with Lyndsay Farlow, the death call in The Age, the other cases springing up just at this time and so on; Minchins song, Morris-Marrs Police Probe Pell,and Ingrid Irwins trip to Rome with the Ballarat survivors in February 2016; the official announcement by the police that they were investigating Pell just after Milligans programme in July 2016; the decision to press charges shortly after Milligans book was published and pulled.
6. The other cases.It is striking that when Sheridan and Reed went to Rome the police never once asked about the swimmers allegations or any of the absurd cases that were aired at committal.[xviii] The suspicion is that, just as a racehorse trainer with a strongly fancied horse in a big race that needs a strong gallop so that stamina is at a premium puts up one or even two horses that, without having actually any hope of winning themselves, nevertheless can lead from the front and force the pace, so the other cases were merely also rans. They were never really meant to stand a chance. Surely, the way that Milligans Cardinal was bookended made it obvious just where the serious money lay?
And so it happened that the magistrate at committal could hear responses that included, Whatever, mate, whatever; whatever works for you?
Here we can also ask about any police involvement in the revelations aired in the week prior to the ruling (to be delivered in four days time).
7. The credibility of the complainant.The police ought to have entertained suspicions regarding the credibility of the complainant, someone for whom the traumatic experience was hidden in the darkest corners and recesses of his mind and yet who would acquire so many too good to be true recollections. Thus, he could recall how the double doors were half open in the sacristy (against which Pell leaned on to expose himself as he did in the early versions of the story until it transpired that the boys were actually out of view in the alcove) and he would come toremember details such as the route the boys took after the assault (indirectly, though conveniently so as not to encounter the shortly arriving altar servers, and yet quickly, so that the boys would return as half the others were already leaving to go home despite the scheduled rehearsals). Even if these shifts did not raise alarms, when they were made seemingly in response to the information the police had just gathered, eyebrows ought to have been raised at this point.
7.1 More than Pell.Another eyebrow raiser is the claim made by the complainant according to Milligans encounter (page 4). Someone was intimidating him. Was this threat ever taken seriously? Was it ever discussed? Why not?
7.2. The denials of the other boy.Or again, what of Rs claims to his parents that he had never been abused? Presumably the police would have checked their records on R at this point. With what result? It was reported that R died 24 hours after leaving jail. What inquiries were made in this respect?
7.3 Anti-Christian attitudes.It is possible that the police would have been interested, also, in the social media presence of the complainant, or of the attitudes of, say, the father of the other boy that may have impacted on credibility. What did the police make of their discoveries?
Conclusion. Amid the allegations that George Pell was the victim of a witch-hunt in which the police colluded with the media in ways harmful to truth and justice, a series of questions have emerged. A notable feature of the Pell case was the manner in which the story shifted, the causes of which need to be properly understood.[xix] To this end a careful inquiry of the documents, the networks, the practices, and the attitudes of the Victorian Police must be conducted. This paper offers a list that may serve as an introductory resource for those investigators wanting to lift the lid. It references some work already completed that has been undertaken with that purpose in mind.
(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: A case of the man who knew too much - The Pell saga | Trials and tribulations of Barwon's highest profile prisoner | The final piece of the puzzle in the Pell case | Cardinal Pell - The Case for the Prosecution | Counsel for George Pell argues for conviction to be set aside | Reviewing the Pell appeal which goes before high Court on Wednesday | George Pell Case - The wine in the wardrobe revisited | 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