Key witness in Pell case unreliable: Court may withdraw charge

Evidence from a key witness in the sexual abuse trial against Cardinal George Pell may be withdrawn and the charge against him dropped.

The director of prosecutions told the Melbourne Magistrates Court that, although no decision has been made yet, the charge by the late Damian Dignan was “likely to be withdrawn”.

Ruth Shann, a member of Pell’s defence team, said Dignan’s accusation, which arose after he read about other cases in the commission in newspapers, had had a “domino effect”.

She called Dignan an “unreliable witness”. She said Pell’s lawyers would be examining Dignan’s credibility when the formal four-week committal hearing begins next month.

Dignan died in January this year.

Shann said Pell’s lawyers have subpoenaed material from the Dignan’s lawyer and they would pursue material connected to his complaint.

This will be used to decide whether it can be included as part of the case or not, since he was the “starting point”.

Dignan’s complaint inspired a number of other complainants to contact police with claims of historic abuse against the Australian cardinal, she said.

Shann went on to say other accusers who spoke out after Dignan can’t be understood without first dealing with their knowledge of Dignan’s own complaint.

Dignan’s complaint against Pell was lodged in March 2016 when he accused Pell of touching him inappropriately in a public swimming pool forty years before.

At the same time Dignan, who had a criminal record for assault and drunk driving, also accused former St. Alipius School teachers of abuse.

Both Dignan’s allegations were corroborated by a former classmate, Lyndon Monument. Monument, a former drug dealer, also has a criminal record for assault.

Cardinal Pell, who has always maintained his innocence, has pleaded not guilty to all charges. He has previously been accused of acts of child sexual abuse dating as far back as 1961.

The head of his defence team, Robert Richter, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the cardinal had been “set up to fall”.

“The cardinal has been set up to fall by people who know nothing about the actual charges,” Richter said. “He’s innocent, and he needs help.”



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