Crowds gather in Melbourne ahead of court mention on historical sex offence charges

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SOME of the allegations made against Cardinal George Pell could simply never have happened, his legal team says.

Robert Richter, QC, told the Melbourne Magistrates Court today it was “impossible” allegations of historical sexual offending at St Patrick’s Cathedral could have occurred.

“The notion that it couldn’t have happened needs to be explored,” he said.

PELL VOWS TO FIGHT CHARGES

Mr Richter said he would seek to prove that at an upcoming committal hearing today set down for March 4. It is expected to last one month.

Dozens of witnesses will be called by the Cardinal’s lawyers as he vehemently fights the historical sexual assault offence charges.

The witnesses will include former choirboys.

Cardinal Pell appeared at court for a committal mention hearing where discussions centred around who would be cross examined at the upcoming committal.

Mr Richter said for the bulk of the witnesses the cross examination would be “short and sharp”.

He said it was vital to cross examine so many witnesses in order to properly prepare for trial.

Cardinal Pell has vehemently denied any wrongdoing and Mr Richter

again today stressed this matter would go to trial.

Magistrate Belinda Wallington approved the cross examination of witnesses.

She refused permission to cross examine five witnesses Cardinal Pell’s

lawyers had hoped to question.

The matter will return to court later this year for a further mention.

Cardinal Pell, flanked by police, was surrounded by media as he walked from his lawyer’s nearby office and into the court building.

At times he was accosted by a small number of protesters.

A small crowd, of mainly media, had begun to gather outside the Melbourne Magistrates Court at 5am.

On his first appearance at court in July hundreds of people mobbed the Cardinal in chaotic scenes as he arrived.

The hearing made history with Cardinal Pell the most senior Catholic official to face court on sex offence charges.

The hearing prompted a heavy police presence and security and police are in position again today in anticipation of similar scenes.

Helen Dawson, a protester outside the court this morning, said the committal mention was a significant event even if Cardinal Pell did not appear.

“This trial is a very important display that the days of special privileges for high-ranking religious officials are finished and gone,” she said.

“There is no special treatment for any religious leader anymore.

“That is very necessary to show.”

Today’s hearing, a committal mention, is not expected to be extensive.

Committal mentions are generally procedural in preparation for potential committal hearing.

An update on how the case is proceeding is expected.

Prosecutors were due to serve their complete brief of evidence last month but said publicly it would be ready well in advance of the September 8 deadline.

But he has vehemently denied any wrongdoing since being charged in June and has repeatedly vowed to fight all charges.

Today a number of issues may be canvassed including what witnesses will be called to give evidence at any potential committal hearing, which if it proceeds to committal is tipped to be held early next year.

His lawyer, Robert Richter, QC, said during his first court appearance in July: “For the avoidance of doubt, and because of the interest, might I indicate Cardinal Pell will plead not guilty to all the charges and will maintain his presumed innocence that he has.”

Police helped Pell through a 100-strong crush of national and international media as he walked the 100 metres between his barrister’s office and the court’s main entrance for the brief filing

hearing.

Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton in July said police would consider taking Pell through an underground door to the court complex next time.

The former Sydney and Melbourne archbishop and Ballarat priest has taken leave from his position as Vatican treasurer to return to Australia to defend himself.

shannon.deery@news.com.au



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