Priest may face accusers - Defense wants alleged victims on the stand

SOME of the alleged victims of a defrocked Catholic priest charged with historic sex offences could be called to give evidence in a courtroom showdown.

The 60-year-old former priest who can’t be named is facing 133 child sex offences and one firearm-related charge but is yet to enter a plea to a  single charge.

There are 10 victims covered by the string of charges stemming back to the 1970s and ’80s in Moree and Armidale but despite months and months of negotiations the former priest and the DPP are yet to settle the facts. 

The man’s defence barrister Hament Dhanji signalled victims, their family members and police could take the stand if the defence has their way. 

“There are four complainants to which there is no agreement,” Mr Dhanji said.

Mr Dhanji said there was no need for further evidence from six of the victims but he has applied for four parties to give evidence at a hearing in Armidale Local Court – which still needs the nod from Magistrate Karen Stafford.

Yesterday, the court heard the brief of evidence against the accused spans 11 volumes.

“There are diaries and so forth, investigator statements ... statements from other people around at the church in Moree,” Crown Prosecutor Peter Woods told the court.

Magistrate Stafford was scathing of the delays in the case which will see it head back to court in two months – despite it first coming to court in 2012.

“I have no pleas, there have been no pleas entered,” she said.

Magistrate Stafford said the delays were staggering after the defence failed to file important submissions to the court, blaming an administrative error.

“Why wasn’t the court’s timetable complied with?” she asked the defence.

The DPP has requested a six- week adjournment to reply to some of the submissions ahead of the hearing that could see some of the victims called, but maintains there has been progress.

“One of the difficulties there has been is substantial negotiations going on in the last 18 months,” Mr Woods said.

“We had reached agreement on some of the charges.” 

Magistrate Stafford will decide on the application to hear from victims at a hearing in June, but if it does not proceed the former priest could be ordered to stand trial if he fights the charges.

Officers from Strike Force Glenroe – the police taskforce set up to investigate the claims of alleged sexual abuse by the defrocked priest – were in court for yesterday’s developments.

Detectives allege the man sexually abused young boys and girls in the New England North West while he was a Catholic priest.

Delays frustrate magistrate

A MAGISTRATE has signalled she won’t tolerate any further hold-ups in the case of the accused former priest, warning both sides to be ready by June.

Magistrate Karen Stafford expressed frustration with the continual delays in the case against the 60-year-old, pointing out the matter had been hovering in court since 2012.

“There is very significant public interest in justice being dealt with as expeditiously as possible,” she told Armidale Local Court yesterday.

In September last year, Magistrate Stafford refused to lift a non-publication order on the identity of the accused to protect his safety and the identity of some of the alleged victims.

Last month three charges were dropped against him, but the defrocked priest still faces 134 offences.

“These charges have gone through many hands,” Magistrate Stafford said.

“There must be some movement on the matter in the interests of justice.”

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