George Pell taken to prison after bail revoked at court hearing for child sex offences

| 27.02,19. 07:46 PM |

George Pell taken to prison after bail revoked at court hearing for child sex offences

In so many ways, Cardinal George Pell was the archetypal Pharisee, parroting strict dogmas while luxuriating in his superior sanctity, indifferent to the human toll, writes Robert Gascoigne.

Cardinal George Pell has been taken to the Melbourne Assessment Prison where he is spending his first night behind bars after having his bail revoked in the County Court.

Pell, 77, has been remanded in custody for the first time on five child sex offences, which he was convicted of last December.

A jury found him guilty of sexually abusing two choirboys when he was archbishop of Melbourne in the late 1990s.

Pell will be sentenced on March 13.

"Goodbye you creep," a woman called out as Pell walked from the dock and into custody accompanied by corrections officers.

Pell had been granted bail after his conviction in December last year, because he required knee surgery in Sydney.

He is now being held at the prison, which sits on the edge of the city's CBD near Southern Cross Station and a few blocks from the County Court.

He entered via a side entrance, through a secure airlock, with a rolling metal door on either side.

Prison life begins

Upon entry, Pell was expected to undergo the same process as all prisoners, which would involve him handing over his belongings, signing a receipt and awaiting assessment.

The process includes basic checks, such as his physical and mental condition and whether he is taking any medication.

An assessment will also take into consideration his personal safety.

The risk is likely to be high, given his public profile and the nature of the crimes for which he has been convicted.

Offenders against children are often regarded as targets for violence within the prison system.

Prisoners are allowed one pair of shoes, one pair of pyjamas, and six pairs of underwear and socks.

They are also allowed six books and six magazines.

Clothing is also restricted to four tops and four pairs of jeans, trousers or shorts.

The only exception is the suit of clothes George Pell has chosen to wear to court next week for sentencing.

Pell will also be given an opportunity to nominate people for their visit and telephone call lists and is allowed to make one phone call.

As he left the court, Pell's lawyer, Robert Richter QC was asked how he thought Pell would go in prison.

"Well, I hope," he responded.

'Callous, brazen offending'

Pell's pre-sentencing hearing was told his crimes each carried maximum jail terms of 10 years.

Prosecutor Mark Gibson SC told Chief Judge Peter Kidd that Pell's offending involved two vulnerable boys and should be classed as serious.

"These acts … were, in our submission, humiliating and degrading towards each boy and gave rise to distress in each boy," he said.

Mr Richter said the crimes were "no more than a plain vanilla sexual penetration case where the child is not volunteering or actively participating".

But Judge Kidd said that he did view it as a "serious example of this kind of offending".

Lawyers acting for Pell said in a statement today said that he continued to maintain his innocence "despite the unprecedented media coverage".

The statement said Pell had not applied for bail because he believed it was "appropriate for him to await sentencing" and an appeal has already been lodged.

"Like any person he has the right to pursue his legal rights and will do so."

Mr Richter told the court an appeal against the conviction had been lodged 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 the 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 you would have to ignore the evidence of a number of witnesses for the two choirboys to have found themselves alone in the priest's sacristy.

But the judge wouldn't allow it, ruling it was based on a degree of speculation and guesswork.

The Vatican's first response to the conviction came late on Tuesday night.

Acting Holy See spokesman Alessandro Gisotti read a statement to reporters at the Vatican but did not take questions.

"This is painful news that, as we are well aware, has shocked many people, not only in Australia," he said.

"We await the outcome of the appeals process, recalling that Cardinal Pell maintains his innocence and has the right to defend himself until the last stage of appeal.

"That is, while awaiting the definitive assessment of the facts, as is the norm, Cardinal Pell is prohibited from exercising public ministry and from having any voluntary contact whatsoever with minors."


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