A Victorian prosecutor has admitted she made a mistake when she failed to disclose for almost two years that Google search attempts to find overseas stories on Cardinal George Pells sex abuse conviction were unsuccessful.Eighteen journalists and 12 media organisations are on trial in the Victorian Supreme Court over allegations they breached a gag order on Cardinal Pell’s child sex convictions, which have since been overturned.
Many of the stories mentioned a “high profile Australian” had been convicted. No articles identified Cardinal Pell or the offences.
At the opening of the trial on Monday, crown prosecutor Lisa De Ferrari SC argued some of the Australian reports “encouraged” the public to seek out overseas stories via Google that would reveal Cardinal Pell was the person convicted.
On Tuesday, Office of Public Prosecutions solicitor Kirsten Aaskov admitted most of her attempts to find overseas stories, based on search terms that might be used by Australians, had failed to produce any results.
The terms she searched in Google included: “high profile Australian”, “high profile Australian convicted”, “high profile Australian who is it”, “Australian media can’t report” and “high profile Australian found guilty”.
None of these terms returned results.
Details of the failed Google search were contained in an email from Ms Aaskov to her OPP colleague Lauren Myers on December 28, 2018, yet this information was only disclosed last Friday.
She was quizzed in court on Tuesday about why she didn’t reveal the eight search terms almost two years after she disclosed the information to her colleagues.
“They weren’t evidence we were relying on … I made a mistake, an omission and I picked that up last Thursday and, as soon as I did, I disclosed,” she told the court.
Ms Myers was later asked whether she thought the court should have been told about the failed search terms earlier.
“I suppose,” Ms Myers said.
Prosecutors did, however, successfully find links to overseas articles naming Cardinal Pell by using four other search terms.
In December 2018, multiple media outlets including Melbourne’s Herald Sun and The Age published information about the conviction of a high-profile Australian without naming Cardinal Pell or identifying his charges.
Cardinal Pell was acquitted of abusing two choirboys in the country’s highest court and immediately freed from prison in April. He spent 13 months behind bars before he was freed.
The Australian reports came after overseas news outlets including the Daily Beast and Radar Online named the former Melbourne archbishop in their coverage. No overseas publication has been charged with breaching a suppression order.
The trial will continue on Wednesday and is expected to run for two weeks.