George Pell could begin time behind bars as court considers possible jail sentence

| 27.02,19. 10:38 AM |

George Pell could begin time behind bars as court considers possible jail sentence

Video: George Pell leaves court on Tuesday after the suppression order is lifted (ABC News)

George Pell could be taken into custody today after he faces a Melbourne court again, following his conviction for child sex offences

However, he is set to make a last-ditch attempt to extend his freedom in a separate hearing scheduled for this afternoon.

Pell is due to face a pre-sentence hearing in the Victorian County Court at 10:00am (AEDT), but is also listed to apply for bail in the Court of Appeal at 2:30pm.

Meanwhile, the father of one of his victims — a former choirboy who died of a heroin overdose — has indicated he plans to sue the church.

Yesterday, prosecutors announced they were discontinuing Pell's second trial involving an unrelated set of charges, triggering the lifting of a suppression order and allowing the conviction in his first trial to be revealed for the first time.

He was convicted of five offences dating back to 1996.

At yesterday's hearing, Pell's defence barrister, Robert Richter QC, said he had lodged an appeal against the conviction on three grounds.

But it will not stop Pell from being sentenced next week.

Today's pre-sentence hearing will give the prosecution and defence the opportunity to make submissions on what they believe Pell's sentence should be.

County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd told a previous hearing he was also planning to revoke Pell's bail during today's plea hearing, meaning he would be taken into custody unless his application to the higher court is successful.

Mr Richter yesterday told the court he accepted a sentence of imprisonment was inevitable.

'Blood on his hands'

Pell was convicted on the evidence of one of his two victims. The other died in 2014.

The father of the victim who died has engaged a law firm for a possible civil claim against the Catholic Church.

In a statement, Shine Lawyers said the victim's father would allege "that Pell has blood on his hands".

Leanne McDonald, the firm's national special counsel for social justice and abuse, said a "nervous shock claim" could be lodged on the father's behalf.

"It's a claim in relation to the injury he has suffered as a result of the abuse that was perpetrated on his son," Ms McDonald said.

She said it was "very early days", but the victim's family hoped the Pell case sent a message to survivors of abuse.

"They want it to be put out there that it doesn't matter what position someone's in, you will be believed if you come forward and they're really hoping that, through this process, that people will have the bravery to come forward if it's something that they want to do," she said.

Appealing on three grounds

Pell was convicted last December of abusing the two members of the St Patrick's Cathedral choir in 1996 after a Sunday church service, one of the first since Pell had been appointed archbishop of Melbourne.

Mr Richter told the court he lodged an appeal against the conviction on three grounds, including that the jury verdict was unreasonable.

He said he also planned to argue the jury was unlawfully constituted, and that the defence should have been allowed to play an animated video to the jury during their closing address.

The animation consisted of dots moving around a floor plan of the cathedral, depicting the movements of the many witnesses after mass.

At trial, Mr Richter claimed it illustrated that someone would have to ignore the evidence of a number of witnesses in order to believe the two choirboys could have found themselves alone in the priest's sacristy, where the abuse occurred.

The judge would not allow the animation to be played, ruling it was based on a degree of speculation and guesswork.

It is likely to be months before there is an outcome from the appeal.

Pell's supporters question verdict

In December, Pope Francis removed George Pell from his advisory council of cardinals, stating that Pell was one of three "more elderly cardinals" whose terms had elapsed.

The Pope recently called 190 bishops and religious superiors to a conference on the abuse of children by Catholic clergy, where cardinals called for a new culture of accountability to punish those who failed to protect their community against predator priests.

Earlier this month, the Pope defrocked former US cardinal Theodore McCarrick, following McCarrick's conviction of sexual crimes.

The Vatican responded to Pell's conviction on Tuesday.

Acting Holy See spokesman Alessandro Gisotti read out a statement, describing the verdict as "painful news", but did not take questions from reporters.

He said the church was committed "to do everything possible so that the church might be a safe home for all, especially for children and the most vulnerable".

"We now await the outcome of the appeal trial, recalling that Cardinal Pell has reaffirmed his innocence and has the right to defend himself to the last degree," he said.

He said Pope Francis placed restrictions on Pell inside the Church, obliging him to refrain from public ministry and to have no contact with children.

The "precautionary measures" taken against Pell were already in place, reporters were told.

Pell continues to maintain his innocence, and some of his high-profile supporters argue he should not have been convicted.

Melbourne's Herald Sun newspaper published a column by conservative commentator Andrew Bolt, in which he argued Pell "is a scapegoat, not a child abuser".

Christian lobbyist Lyle Shelton and Jesuit priest Father Frank Brennan also raised concerns about the verdict.

"Would the verdict have been different if Pell had given evidence? Who can tell?" Fr Brennan wrote.

"All one can say is that although the defence seemed to be on strong ground in submitting that the circumstances made the narrative advanced by the prosecution manifestly improbable, that failed to secure the acquittal."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was "deeply shocked at the crimes", and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said "good people of faith" had "been betrayed".


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