Exclusive: paedophile priest's bid for freedom

Former priest Brian Spillane
Former priest Brian Spillane
Brian Spillane, as pictured in a 1978 St Stanislaus College publication.

Brian Spillane, as pictured in a 1978 St Stanislaus College publication.

A NOTORIOUS child sex offender, the former priest Brian Spillane, has launched a bid to quash his conviction by claiming he faced an unfair trial.

Spillane, a former chaplain at Bathurst’s St Stanislaus College, was sentenced to nine years in prison earlier this year for abusing three girls, one as young as eight, in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Fairfax Regional Media can reveal Spillane’s lawyer, Greg Walsh, has prepared a series of documents outlining why the conviction should be overturned. The case will be heard in the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal in April next year, around the same time the Royal Commission into child sex abuse will be lifting the lid on decades of crime and cover-up.

Spillane’s defence lawyer, Greg Walsh, this week claimed Spillane, 69, was wrongly convicted.

“I’ve been a lawyer for 35 years and I don’t think I’ve seen a more unfair trial in my experience,” he said.

One Spillane victim was the 11-year-old relative of male students known to Spillane. During court proceedings, it was revealed Spillane abused her at a north-west NSW country town. Alone together in the kitchen of her home, Spillane asked the girl to sit on his lap. When she did, he put his fingers between her legs and touched her vagina. When she jumped away, he wrapped a hand around her throat and with the other, pulled the girl’s shorts down and assaulted her again.

The other victims were from Sydney, where the priest worked before returning to Bathurst in about 1984. One of the offences occurred when Spillane was in the victim’s bedroom for night-time prayers.

Mr Walsh conceded the national focus on child sex abuse would sharpen reaction to Spillane’s bid for freedom.

“This appeal will be determined by, probably three, very experienced judges…I would have every confidence those justices would not be influenced by the media, they would not be influenced by the current publicity about the Catholic church and paedophilia,” he said.

“Most members of the public may believe this appeal should not be upheld because he’s a former priest and he’s been convicted of paedophile-type offences.

“But I’m sure there are other members of the public…who subscribe to the view Mr Spillane is entitled to a fair (appeal) and would get a fair hearing.”

Bathurst police fielded the first complaints about Spillane and he was charged in 2008. He was convicted in late 2010 but his sentencing only occurred in April this year because Mr Walsh was attempting to have former NSW District Court judge Michael Finnane disqualified from presiding over the case.

Mr Walsh had signed a statutory declaration claiming Judge Finnane told him at a 2011 social function that paedophiles were “all guilty” and should be “put on an island and starved to death”.

Judge Finnane denied making the statements and the legal bid to have him removed was lost.

The alleged comments are one of nearly a dozen grounds for the appeal.

“The background to (all of) this is you had a judge presiding over it who had a view that people like Mr Spillane should be put on an island and starved to death,” Mr Walsh claimed.

“I think that speaks for itself.”

He also claimed a witness in the trial had undergone hypnosis, which “could have distorted their memory”.

During sentencing proceedings, Judge Finnane said Spillane’s attacks were “serious, planned and callous”.

“The offender used his position as a priest to gain access to the homes in which each of his victims lived,” Judge Finnane said

“He was very trusted and the parents of each of the victims readily gave him access to their daughters because of that trust and the esteem in which he was held.”

The victim-support group Broken Rites, which has spent several years probing Spillane’s history, declined to comment.

Spillane has consistently denied the charges brought against him. Mr Walsh said he was pursuing the appeal pro bono. Routine procedural steps in the appeal process occurred in September and October and written submissions were filed last month.

Sexual abuse by staff or members of religious institutions like boarding houses, as well as state-run schools, is expected to be scrutinised during the impending Royal Commission announced by Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Monday.