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George Pell appeal: cardinal’s victim not a liar or fantasist, court told

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The complainant who said Cardinal George Pell sexually abused him when he was a 13-year-old choir boy is a compelling witness and neither a liar or a fantasist, a prosecutor told judges hearing Pell’s appeal against his conviction.

On Thursday morning, the second and final day of Pell’s appeal hearing, crown prosecutor Christopher Boyce said there was no way Pell’s victim would have been able to describe the layout of the priest’s sacristy where Pell abused him if he was fantasising or lying.

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The offending occurred in 1996 when Pell was the archbishop of Melbourne. After presiding over Sunday solemn mass at Melbourne’s St Patrick’s Cathedral, Pell walked in on two 13-year-old choirboys who had sneaked into the priest’s sacristy and abused them. In March this year, Pell, 77, was sentenced to six years in prison.

“The complainant was a very compelling witness,” Boyce told chief justice Anne Ferguson, court president justice Chris Maxwell and justice Mark Weinberg. “He is clearly not a liar, he was not a fantasist.”

During the trial Pell’s defence lawyer Robert Richter told jurors and the court several times that the complainant was either lying or had fantasised what had occurred. He also pressed the complainant on these points during cross-examination.

Maxwell asked Boyce to guide the judges towards evidence from the trial that supported the assessment he was not fantasising or lying.

In his evidence, the complainant described the priests sacristy with accuracy, including a kitchenette area and wooden panels, even though the room was off-limits to choir boys. Boyce said the complainant would not have been able to do this unless he had been in the room and was telling the truth. Boyce also pointed out that the Cathedral was under renovation at the time and the archbishop’s sacristy was not in use. This fit with the complainant’s evidence that the abuse occurred in the priest’s sacristy, because Pell had to use that room while work on his usual sacristy was under way.

However Maxwell pointed out that during his cross-examination at trial, when the complainant was asked if it was possible he had been in the sacristy before, he did not dispute that it was possible. Richter suggested that the choir boys may have been given a tour of the Cathedral when they first joined. The complainant said while he had no memory of such a tour, he also could not state for certain that it did not happen.

The prosecution’s written submission to the court states: “When looking at the whole of the evidence, the integrity of the jury’s verdicts is unimpeachable.

“The jury were entitled to accept the complainant as a reliable and credible witness,” the submission states. “He was skilfully cross-examined for two days by a very experienced member of senior counsel. The complainant’s allegations were not improbable when all of the evidence is carefully considered.”

Improbability was a significant point of discussion on Wednesday when the hearing began, with Pell’s lawyers led by Bret Walker SC arguing that the offending was not only improbable, but impossible. It led to a discussion between Maxwell and Walker as to what determined impossibility.

It was “literally impossible” for the boys to have been abused, Walker told the court. But prosecutors argue that various witnesses at the trial established there was “more than ample opportunity and circumstances for the offending”.

The appeal is expected to close on Thursday afternoon. While the judges may deliver their decision at the close of the appeal, it is more likely they will do so at a later date. If the appeal fails, Pell will not seek a reduction of his sentence.

The hearing continues.

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