News National Behind the scenes as sexual assault evidence is given in case against Cardinal George Pell

Behind the scenes as sexual assault evidence is given in case against Cardinal George Pell

Cardinal George Pell arrives at court this week. Photo: AAP
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The doors of Court 22 at Melbourne Magistrates Court have been strictly closed to media and the public this week but there was nothing to stop reporters from sitting outside the room with laptops, books, picnic lunches and snacks. So we did.

After all, the case unfolding inside was against Cardinal George Pell, the Vatican’s treasurer, who is charged with multiple allegations of historic sexual abuse.

It’s currently the most high profile criminal court case in the world, so it’s an impossible matter to just ignore, even if reporters are not allowed to sit inside. The case is already shrouded in quite a large degree of secrecy, and never more so than this week.

The accusers in the committal hearing began giving two weeks of evidence via video-link from a remote location from 2pm on Monday.

Cardinal George Pell is searched while entering the Magistrates Court. Photo: AAP

The New Daily understands the evidence from the accusers so far has been conducted “slowly and methodically”.

Only the prosecution team, the 76-year-old Cardinal, his male “support person” and his counsel were allowed seats inside along with the magistrate and clerk.

The closed court is standard operating procedure for complainants in cases of a sexual nature in Victoria, but because the case is attracting global attention due to Pell’s senior standing in the Vatican, the interest hasn’t waned.

And so, at times, the core group of media sits outside the door to keep an eye on the proceedings from as close we can legally get without actually putting a glass up the wall and listening in.

What we discovered was that Pell, who strongly denies all the allegations against him, is himself seemingly struggling as his accusers give their testimony.

He was seen wiping his eyes with tissues at one point as he emerged from court for one of many adjournments for a short break, perhaps having been upset by listening to the accusations against him from the complainants for the first time.

And as the week went on, Pell’s physical and mental state seemed to worsen. Due to a witness not being available he had a day off from court on Thursday.

But by Friday he still looked exhausted and seemed quite unwell, with a bad cough and nasty cold. His cough was so bad it could be heard echoing through the stairwell of the court when he went to a level below to use a bathroom.

Walking with a worsening stoop, neck leaning forward, he shuffled all week awkwardly to and from the small private interview room where he eats lunch or takes breaks.

He’s trailed everywhere he goes by a court security guard.

The modern-style Melbourne Magistrates Court is obviously a far cry from the stunning interiors of his workplace in the Vatican in springtime Rome.

There are no nuns on hand to bring him Italian coffee and there are no beautiful Da Vinci paintings or mosaics on the walls.

But he has support. Pell’s lead barrister, Robert Richter, QC, has been showing great comfort and reassurance to the Cardinal, patting him on the back on more than one occasion as Pell went into their private room.

Robert Richter QC has a formidable record in defending his high-profile clients. Photo: ABC

It’s understood Richter, who at 72 isn’t much younger than his client, is having a bit of a hard time himself. And not just because of the challenge at hand.

The New Daily understands he gave up smoking in the new year, but it’s proving a struggle as he cross-examines witnesses in this hugely high-profile case.

To be fair it’s probably a good time to put health and stamina first – this case involves voluminous amounts of documents.

This reporter witnessed legal clerks pushing in two trolleys through the doors of the court on Monday each bearing around 30 thick white files bearing the words GEORGE PELL in capital letters.

On Monday morning a female protester screamed at the Cardinal “Go to hell, George Pell” as he was swallowed up  by an international media scrum and large police presence on his arrival at court.

But there is no doubt that Pell is already experiencing his own lonely hell at court.

A groundhog day of misery that won’t be thawing for sometime yet.