George Pell will be set free later today after the jury that convicted him for sexually abusing two young choirboys is directed to find him not guilty.
Victoria’s Chief Justice Anne Ferguson overnight formally advised County Court Chief Judge Peter Kidd to recall jury members today as a matter of urgency and direct them to file a not-guilty verdict.
The dramatic turn of events follows powerful doubts about the senior Catholic cleric’s guilt expressed by News Corporation Australia columnist Andrew Bolt.
In his column published the morning after the Pell conviction was made known and appearing in News Corporation Australia newspapers across the nation (pictured), Mr Bolt said “based on the overwhelming evidence” he believed Pell had been “falsely convicted”
Mr Bolt’s column then canvassed some key facts of the case including the attitude of the two complainants, including one now deceased, the site of the alleged offences, the circumstances and happenings on the day in question in 1996, and a brief reference to Pell’s assistant at the time who had given evidence that the offences could not possibly have happened.
Although Mr Bolt – a self-confessed friend of Pell – was neither in court for the trial nor served on the jury, he determined that Pell had been convicted as a scapegoat for the wider wrongs of the Catholic Church and was not a child abuser.
In a rare public statement, Chief Judge Kidd also said he fully supported the Chief Justice’s view and would take urgent steps today to have the jury recalled at which stage he would direct them to find Pell not guilty.
“Had Andrew Bolt’s column and his views been known to the court before the jury originally made its decision back in December this now obviously unsound verdict would never have seen the light of day,” Judge Kidd said.
“We cannot let a travesty of justice like this stand for any longer than it takes to remedy it which should happen today.
“I am grateful to Andrew Bolt for providing such compelling evidence and arguments for overturning this clearly unsound verdict.”
Victoria’s Attorney-General Jill Hennessy said she had taken no part in the Chief Justice’s decision and Chief Judge Kidd’s actions to have the Pell conviction overturned, but totally supported the moves.
“I have strictly observed the separation of powers and have taken no part in this dramatic decision,” Ms Hennessy said.
“I am very glad the Chief Justice has acted so quickly and that Chief Judge Kidd has fully agreed with the course of action.
“When I read Andrew’s column yesterday morning over breakfast at home, I knew the jury had got it wrong and the verdict should be classified as unsafe as soon as possible,” Ms Hennessy said.
Pell’s legal team could not be contacted for comment but is believed to be working on a multi-million-dollar claim for compensation for wrongful conviction using the Andrew Bolt column as it sole piece of evidence.