Letters to the Editor

A Scandalous Prosecution

Sir: The letter by Gavin Silbert QC (March 2022) disclaims all obligation upon the Office of Public Prosecution (OPP) to advise Victoria Police on the merits of a prosecution brief. This does not equate to what happens in practice. While police have the duty to charge, the OPP clearly has control of the prosecution in serious offences, as set out in the Policy of the Director of Public Prosecutions for Victoria (DPP). The prosecutor has an obligation to identify any possible miscarriage of justice or any other significant error, and advise the DPP of this. This clear policy statement, and the fact that in the Pell case the former DPP rejected the brief of evidence twice, contradicts Silbert’s view of the prosecutor’s role.

The trial was conducted in secret, so that interested persons were left without access to transcripts of the evidence. When the proceedings were partially revealed in the appeals process, and by commentators who had access to the transcript, it was apparent that the prosecution was fabricated. The prosecutor came to the first trial apparently unaware of the events after High Mass at the cathedral, including the external procession and the large number of witnesses of events in the sacristy rooms, as explained to police by Cardinal Pell himself. The DPP should have terminated the prosecution at this point.

The police did not conduct a full investigation of the alleged offences. I am aware of at least four persons who were direct witnesses of the sacristy activity at the time of the alleged offences. Police were aware of their existence and chose not to take statements from them, which concealed their existence and their evidence from the jury. There was overwhelming evidence that showed that the alleged victims and Pell could never have been alone together in the sacristy.

The whole point of criticism of the OPP is that it collaborated in a prosecution based upon a fabricated claim that Victoria Police declined to fully investigate. Victoria Police collaborated with activists, journalists and the ABC in a campaign against Pell, with leaks and backgrounding, that lasted for over a decade. The misconduct of Victoria Police is well illustrated by other recent cases that have been investigated by IBAC or judicial inquiry. This fatally undermines Silbert’s claim that obtaining a conviction justified a prosecution.

The “uninformed debate” appears to rest with Silbert. Cardinal Pell’s Rome interview was played in full at his trials. What further evidence could he have given about an alleged assault that never happened? Pell gave the police a direct account of the activity in the sacristy after High Mass, but police made little attempt to interview the many witnesses and properly brief the OPP.

A recent legal “doctrine” in sexual offence cases is that the accuser must always be believed. The application of this doctrine has seen numerous false convictions and ruined reputations in recent years. Silbert’s claim that a not-guilty finding does not equate to a finding of innocence only further demonstrates the harm of this doctrine.

History will record that the Pell prosecution was a collaboration between the OPP and Victoria Police to jail a senior Catholic cleric. The result was a stain on the Victorian judicial system. Unfortunately, we are unlikely to ever see an independent inquiry into this misconduct, as it reaches to the heart of Victorian politics.

John Wheelahan


Darwin’s Half-Tree

Sir: Henry Rainger, in his letter “An Atheist Word” (March 2022), sweeps aside the whole scientific controversy of Evolution and Creationism when he talks of “superior knowledge founded on systematic observation and rigorous testing of evidence over ancient texts of uncertain provenance”.  

He has obviously never heard of the scientific and mathematical impossibility of the formation of a functional protein necessary for building the simplest cell in the primeval pond, or the DNA evidence for Intelligent Design as described by Stephen C. Meyer in his book Signature in the Cell. This book, with over 500 pages and 100 pages of notes and bibliography, was named one of the books of 2009 by the Times Literary Supplement.

He has probably never heard that the bottom half of Darwin’s Evolutionary Tree has never been found below the Cambrian layer. All the different Phyla were laid out in the Cambrian layer, and each phylum was able to develop within its DNA variations the different adaptations of the species. Darwin observed this, and jumped to his conclusions. But he added at the end of his book that he was wrong if the bottom half of his tree was never found.

Since then the Holy Grail of Darwin’s Tree has been searched for in all the deep bores of the world and never found. I would like to hear the other side of the controversy for Mr Rainger’s “superior knowledge”, for there are two sides to every story.

Peter M. Couttie


Robin Marsden

Sir: May I, through your columns, thank Roger Brown for his poignant tribute (March 2022) to his “Big Sister” Robin Marsden? Some of the material emerged from the livestreamed funeral service last year, which I had the privilege of witnessing. Yet to have all of it in permanently available printed form warrants gratitude.

Ye gods, what a prodigiously hard worker Robin was! And like so many hard workers, especially those (like Robin) of wholly or partly British intellectual origins, she gave the impression of perpetual engagement in a kind of genteel amateur charades-game. Had she been less devoted to her duties, Quadrant would not have survived at all.

Mr Brown rightly stresses Robin’s copy-editing meticulousness, which saved from the consequences of their own ignorance many neophyte authors, scandalously few of whom ever acknowledged Robin’s labours at imparting intelligibility and sanity to their prose. Maxwell Perkins’s famous efforts upon tidying up Thomas Wolfe’s manuscripts were, by comparison, a cinch. But editorial excellence is one thing; moral character is something else. 

With the exception of Father Paul Stenhouse, Robin was the only actual saint whom I have ever known. I have encountered many very good people, and been indebted in various ways to all of them. But of two individuals alone, Robin Marsden and Fr Stenhouse, can I say that their innate goodness was almost as palpable as a table or a chair. That neither of them seems ever to have suspected his or her own saintliness is a confirmation that both embodied saintliness themselves.

On one occasion, and only one, even Robin struck me as wishing to give up. That was in 1984, when left-wing Melbourne author Roger Milliss released an autobiographical novel called Serpent’s Tooth. Milliss’s fellow Melburnian Frank Knopfelmacher—amid a brief intermission from those almost endless unsolicited late-night telephone calls which by this point comprised most of his intellectual activity—reviewed the book in so libellous a manner (Quadrant, November 1984) that for weeks the magazine faced the danger of being sued. I had this on Robin’s own authority. Happily the first words in Milliss’s protesting letter-to-the-editor were, in toto, “Defamation suits are not my style.” You can imagine the relief which swept over Robin.

It is the greatest of pities that Robin wrote so little under her own name. If you want to comprehend what she could achieve in her all-too-rare journalistic flights, consult her encomium to Richard Krygier in Quadrant’s November 1986 commemorative issue honouring that remarkably gifted man. Sentence after sentence of her encomium could be applied at least as well to Robin herself. She refers to an Australian Catholic then celebrated (in fact B.A. Santamaria, though I never knew this until, years subsequently, she told me) who “regards agnostic Richard as one of God’s secret agents”.

“One of God’s secret agents”: let that, along with Mr Brown’s article, constitute Robin Marsden’s epitaph. And when it comes to the wording on her tombstone, let the title of a once-renowned 1958 Second World War film be used: “Carve her name with pride.”

R.J. Stove

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