Former Liberal Minister Amanda Vanstone is right.

What we are seeing is vicious and shameful:

The media frenzy surrounding Cardinal George Pell is the lowest point in civil discourse in my lifetime. I'm 64.

What we are seeing is no better than a lynch mob from the dark ages. Some in the media think they are above the law both overseas and at home.

Deep pockets of your boss or lesser pockets on your victim, build bravado. If your assets aren't on the line you can trash a reputation with gay abandon...

What we are seeing now is far worse than a simple assessment of guilt. The public arena is being used to trash a reputation and probably prevent a fair trial... 

If there were a real prospect of Pell being charged one might have thought authorities would have sought an injunction to prevent the publication of a recently published book on him and certain allegations. Isn't it normal to try to ensure a person can get a fair trial by keeping prejudicial, untested material out of the public arena?...

This saga has gone on and on. Civilised as we are we've discarded the death penalty. Oddly, we seem to condone death by a thousand cuts through public persecution. We allow a career and a reputation to be destroyed because a baying crowd thinks they can be the arbiter of guilt and innocence.

Where are the relevant authorities? Either by design or an uncontrolled leaker we have been treated to clickbait snippets of Victorian police activity somewhat akin to previews of a reality show. "Tune in for our next highlight, we're off to Rome" hasn't got much of a professional ring to it.

How shaky is that case?

Victoria’s top cop has hinted that police could be split over a decision whether to charge Cardinal George Pell with historic child abuse offences.

It was not unusual for police to have different views, particularly in complex matters, chief commissioner Graham Ashton said this morning.

Nevertheless, a decision was closer, he said.

We've seen before the police destroy an innocent man's career - with the help of a baying media:

THE lynching of Theo Theophanous - the Labor minister falsely accused of rape - just became even more shameful.

This week the Australian Press Council took an axe to The Age, which first let loose the defamation that cost Theophanous his job, his reputation and much of his savings.

In October 2008, the paper published on its front page an "exclusive interview" with a woman who claimed she'd been raped by Theophanous, a friend, in his State Parliament office...

Four days later, the Sunday Age followed with a devastating profile of Theophanous, which used largely anonymous sources to portray the minister for major projects, industry and trade as a violent, lecherous, light-fingered and treacherous shonk, who'd use moral blackmail to hush his victim.

Already alarm bells should have rung in the skull of any reader with even a skerrick of a brain or a sense of fair play.

As I wrote that same month, why was the "accuser ... given every protection and the accused almost none"?

Theophanous had not even been interviewed by police, let alone charged, yet was already named and savagely shamed on the front page of The Age.

So toxic is the mere accusation of "rapist" that within days he was forced to step down as minister, and a year later, career shredded, quit Parliament.

Yet his accuser (let's call her Helen) had her anonymity protected by The Age - and still does today, even after being found by a court last year to be an "entirely unreliable witness" at times barely "clinging to reality, if not her sanity" as she made claims lacking "credibility, reliability and truthfulness"...

As the Press Council this week revealed, Age executives knew before they published their "exclusive" that their reporter, Carolyn Webb, was a friend of Helen and had stayed with her in Greece, which meant she "clearly had a potential conflict of interest" that could have skewed her report.

The Age also knew beforehand that Helen had given Webb inconsistent versions of her story that "differed in key respects", even to the extent of the date and place of the alleged rape...

A year later Magistrate Peter Reardon threw out the case against Theophanous at the committal stage, ruling Helen was a completely unreliable witness and no jury could convict on the evidence.

No wonder. The court had heard that the Sexual Crimes Squad detective who took Helen's statement took 15 months and an extraordinary 15 drafts to try to knock it into some plausible shape.

He kept finding inconsistencies, you see. For example, he had to ask Helen to change the date of her alleged rape from June or July of 2000 to October of 1998.

He told her she also had to change her claim that she'd rung a girlfriend after the rape, since her phone records showed she'd rung a former boyfriend instead.

And could she explain having been found guilty in 1994 of making a false statement in claiming social security? How about an excuse for having falsely accused a former boss of "sexual harassment"?

Asked in court why he'd been so credulous, the detective said: "It's incumbent on us to believe what complainants tell us ... "

I deeply suspect the same thing may be happening all over again, and not least because of this:

A VICTORIAN police deputy commissioner [Graham Ashton, now chief commissioner] and the force have been accused of false and misleading evidence to the state's child sex abuse inquiry ...

Mr Ashton claimed in his evidence to the inquiry that police had not "had a single referral of a child sexual abuse allegation by the Catholic Church". This assertion is repeated in the police submission to the inquiry. However, these allegations, which have been among the defining evidence of the inquiry, are wrong, according to [the] submission [of the independent commissioner in charge of the Catholic Church's Melbourne-based complaints system, Peter O'Callaghan] ...

O'Callaghan's response in reply to Mr Ashton and the police submission also contains five examples from his files in which he says complainants reported abuse at the encouragement of or with his direct assistance. Mr O'Callaghan also reveals that, of the 304 complaints made to him to June 30 last year, 97 have been reported to police, 115 related to offenders who were already dead at the time of the complaint, nine were for offenders who were overseas and 76 complainants were encouraged by him to go to police...

The police submission claims that to obtain an ex gratia payment for compensation from the church, victims must enter into an agreement discharging the church from any further liability. It claims that some of these deeds include confidentiality clauses agreeing not to disclose or discuss the circumstances of the complaint. But Mr O'Callaghan states: "Victims of sexual abuse who accept the offer of compensation provided pursuant to the Melbourne Response ... are specifically advised that there is no obligation of confidentiality and that they are free to discuss with anyone the facts and circumstances of the abuse and the compensation obtained."

Indeed, as the Victorian Parliamentary inquiry into child sex abuse confirmed:

The Commission’s examination of transcripts of interviews revealed that the Melbourne Response’s practice throughout was to tell victims that they had an ‘unfettered right’ to report abuse to the police.

And then there was this equally stunning slander by police:

Victoria Police has been exposed vastly overstating the number of suicides related to child-sex abuse by Catholic clergy...

Mr Ashton told the Victorian inquiry in late 2012 that the force was examining for the coroner 43 suicide deaths allegedly related to church abuse...

But at the same time ... a police Sexual Crimes Squad investigation was wound up, detailing how the original claims of up to 43 deaths could not be substantiated... Operation Plangere could substantiate only one firm case....

Despite knowing for more than two years that the figure was grossly wrong, the force has never publicly corrected it, regardless of the enormous damage it caused the church.

Already several claims against Pell, reported as fact by several media outlets, have proved false:

Remember one victim, David Ridsdale, claiming Pell tried to bribe him to stop him telling police he’d been abused by his uncle, notorious paedophile priest Gerald Ridsdale?

David Ridsdale testified Pell had asked him in 1993 “what would it take” to keep quiet. “I remember saying to both my sisters, ‘the bastard just tried to bribe me’.”

Ridsdale told this story to journalist David Marr, a leading persecutor of Pell. He told it to 60 Minutes and the ABC and became the de facto spokesman for victims in Ballarat. I don’t doubt he believed it. Nor does Furness, but her submission, co-authored by Stephen Free, says the evidence does not back him up. Yes, Pell offered to help the distraught family friend.

But “given Mr Ridsdale … expressed a desire to Bishop Pell for a private process, it is not likely that Bishop Pell would then have thought it necessary to offer Mr Ridsdale an inducement to prevent him from going to the police”.

Furness also casts doubt on other allegations promoted by journalists.

For instance, one witness said he’d gone to Pell’s presbytery in Ballarat one weekday to warn about a paedophile priest, but Pell had chased him away. (Almost no journalist revealed this witness was himself later jailed for abusing children.)

Furness concludes this claim “cannot be resolved”, since Pell was not living at that presbytery and at that time of day was probably at work. She also casts doubt on a third claim, which made headlines in the Sydney Morning Herald and on the ABC.

One witness said he’d overheard Pell joke about Gerald Ridsdale with a fellow priest at a funeral mass in Ballarat, saying “Haha I think Gerry’s been rooting boys again”.

In fact, says Furness, there was no such mass on the date the witness gave and the priest Pell allegedly joked with was then living in Horsham and denied Pell would say such a thing anyway.

Furness does not even trouble to mention another false claim — that in 1969 Pell heard an abused boy plead for help but did nothing. Pell’s passport shows he actually lived in Rome that year.

George Pell is asked how he's going:

I’m hanging in there.

Meanwhile, why don't the police examine their own failures?

BUT note how many people knew much more than Pell and did nothing — starting with the police who investigated [pedophile priest Gerard] Ridsdale for abusing even the sons of one officer, yet unaccountably dropped the case....

Peter Searson [was] a misfit and, it turned out, paedophile priest... Again, the police failed worse: they investigated complaints that Searson molested one girl and held a knife to the chest of another, but both times failed to prosecute.

I cannot ultimately know if Pell is innocent or guilty. But I do know that I have not yet seen credible evidence against him anywhere, which makes him innocent until prove guilty. I also know I have seen many plainly false claims and smears, and the most savage and personal abuse.

Too many people want him to a scapegoat. And the result is the most vile witch hunt I have ever seen.

If police do prosecute Pell and if their case does fall apart as did its case against Theophanous, heads must roll.

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