THE NSW Government has been asked to release the confidential fourth volume of a 2014 Special Commission of Inquiry final report after NSW prosecutors on Thursday confirmed they will not appeal the overturning of former Archbishop Philip Wilson’s conviction for concealing child sex allegations.
Hunter survivor advocate Peter Gogarty wrote to NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman after the decision seeking release of the report, documents and transcripts which were not made public in 2014 because of the possibility of a charge against the archbishop.
The NSW Special Commission of Inquiry considered the Catholic Church’s responses to child sex allegations against the late Hunter priests Jim Fletcher and Denis McAlinden. Former Archbishop Wilson’s name was redacted from commission reports and he did not give evidence in public.
Mr Gogarty made his request after expressing disappointment with the Director of Public Prosecutions’ decision not to appeal, and before Mr Speakman released a statement saying he had sought independent legal advice about the DPP decision.
“They should have had a go. They should have appealed,” said Mr Gogarty, who was sexually abused by Fletcher as a child.
“Wilson’s team has spent an enormous amount of energy and money appealing every point along the way and the DPP has decided just to let this go and seemingly let go of any other similar prosecution of an historical matter where knowledge and belief of an offence is at issue.
“I went into this with my eyes wide open about how difficult a prosecution would be, but I am disappointed with the DPP’s decision.”
Mr Speakman asked the DPP to consider the prospects of an appeal after Newcastle District Court Judge Roy Ellis quashed the conviction on December 7.
In a short statement the DPP said it had “no right of appeal against the dismissal of a charge in these circumstances”.
“An appeal can only be made on errors of law. After careful consideration, it was decided that there were no reasonable prospects of success of appeal on errors of law,” the DPP said.
Mr Speakman responded with a statement saying he had “requested independent legal advice on the matter” and “My thoughts are with those affected by this case”.
Former Archbishop Wilson was convicted on May 22 of failing to report child sex allegations about Jim Fletcher to police between 2004 and 2006 after Fletcher was charged with child sex offences, and when prosecutors alleged further information could have assisted police.
The former archbishop was the most senior Catholic cleric in the world to be convicted of a conceal offence.
He appealed the conviction, but resigned from his position as Adelaide archbishop after then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten made public statements supporting calls for his resignation.
On December 7 Newcastle District Court Judge Ellis overturned the conviction after rejecting substantial elements of the case against the archbishop, and questioning the accuracy of a key witness’ evidence.
The former archbishop served more than three months home detention wearing a tracking device after he started a 12 month jail sentence, served as six months home detention, from August despite lodging an appeal against his conviction.
After the conviction was overturned on December 7 Administrator Delegate of Adelaide Archdiocese, Philip Marshall, said the church “needed to consider the ramifications of this outcome”.
Judge Ellis quashed the conviction after finding the prosecution had not proven the case against the former archbishop beyond reasonable doubt. He told the court former Archbishop Wilson could not be convicted of a crime because the “Catholic Church has a lot to answer for in terms of its historical self-protective approach” to children alleging child sexual abuse by priests.
In his statement on Thursday Mr Speakman said the NSW Government enacted a new section of the NSW Crimes Act after the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse final report in December, 2017, making failing to report child abuse a criminal offence.
“We also listened to community concerns and strengthened the penalty under section 316A and section 316 of the Crimes Act (failing to report a serious indictable offence) to - in the most serious cases - a maximum five years imprisonment or seven years where the offender failed to report the abuse for a personal benefit,” Mr Speakman said.
“There is no greater obligation of individuals, the community and government than to protect our children from abuse,” he said.