The church inquiry into the allegations against Dr George Pell has ended with both sides claiming vindication.
The inquiry into the allegations that Pell had molested a 12-year-old boy in 1961 or 1962 was conducted by retired Supreme Court judge Alec Southwell QC and was held over five days in Melbourne at the beginning of this month.
Southwell concluded his detailed 14-page report by stating that he was not satisfied that the complaint against Pell had been established.
Bearing in mind the forensic difficulties of the defence occasioned by the very long delay, some valid criticism of the complainant’s credibility, the lack of corroborative evidence and the sworn denial of the respondent, I find I am not -˜satisfied that the complaint has been established’, Southwell wrote.
Dr Pell claimed in a press statement that Southwell had gone as far as the terms of reference allowed in exonerating me.
However, the unnamed complainant told The Australian that he too felt vindicated by Southwell’s report.
Southwell said that the complainant, when giving evidence of [the] molesting, gave the impression that he was speaking honestly from an actual recollection.
However, Southwell noted that Pell also, gave me the impression that he was speaking the truth. Pell has at all stages of the inquiry vehemently denied the allegations.
Although Pell’s counsel Jeffrey Sher QC had tried to discredit the complainant by reference to his prior criminal record, Southwell said that the record [was] notable more for alcohol and violence than dishonesty.
He did go on to sound a somewhat cautious note.
However, there is sufficient evidence of dishonesty to demonstrate that the complainant’s evidence must be scrutinised with special care. It would be difficult to be satisfied about his version against that of the respondent unless some support were to be found in the evidence of other witnesses, or in circumstantial evidence.
Much of the discussion in Southwell’s report is about the admissibility of evidence and the rules appropriate to an ad hoc church-funded inquiry without formal legal status.
H, who also attended the camp where the abuse was alleged to have occurred, gave evidence to the inquiry that he had been warned by another (now dead) attendee to just watch out for Big George.
In his signed witness statement H said he presumed there was a sexual context of the warning.
Although Southwell said that he believed H to be a patently honest witness, he was unable to give much weight to the evidence.
Mr Sher submitted that I should take no notice of this evidence, which, he said, would not have been admitted in a criminal trial. The latter part of the evidence would not have been admitted in a criminal trial, and even in this different proceeding it must, I believe, be put aside. Evidence of what an 11-year-old boy -˜assumed’ about a possibly misunderstood -˜warning’ is no sound basis for adverse findings in an inquiry of this nature, Southwell’s report said.
I have had more difficulty in deciding whether any weight should be given for the fact of the -˜warning’. Not without hesitation, I have decided that, given the very serious nature of this proceeding, and the possible ambiguity of the warning, I should put it aside, the QC concluded.
The inquiry also heard evidence from Pell’s colleagues as to his character. Southwell noted that Pell’s general credibility was not challenged, and that powerful evidence of good character was also presented.
The full report is available at