ARCHIVE of Herald reports


ALL day I have searched for an image with which to describe the courtroom feel of the Special Commission of Inquiry sitting in Newcastle.

And the best I can come up with is this: imagine a giant ball of wool that you know is there, but which you cannot see.

Imagine, now, that the court participants – the barristers, the witnesses, the special commissioner Margaret Cunneen – can pull skeins of that ball of wool out into the open and examine them, at length, in minute detail.

That’s what it’s like.

The participants have the full script. The affidavits lodged as evidence in chief. Volume after volume of them, all marked with coloured tabs for ease of finding a particular quote or passage.

The media can apply for material, but approval is not always automatic.

A document colleague Jason Gordon asked for on Monday was given to him yesterday, after the hearing had adjourned, with the sensational results you will read on these pages.

But the people in the gallery must decipher things as best they can.

So we listen, in rapt silence, as Newcastle Herald reporter Joanne McCarthy is cross-examined in length about particular words in emails between her and Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox.

Or as Detective Chief Inspector Wayne Humphrey is asked about his communications with other senior officers over Strike Force Lantle.

One minute we are in 2007.

Then it’s 2010.

In essence, it’s a microscopic examination of a very particular set of circumstances, which were set out by counsel assisting the inquiry Julia Lonergan back in early May. Any questions that stray off that particular patch are quickly objected to by one or more counsel.

Questions are withdrawn or rephrased.

The need to preserve anonymity means the hearings are littered with any number of pseudonyms, which can be confusing for all concerned.

In the gallery, most of the 30 or so people who have turned up this week are involved in some way with the matters being canvassed.

Two men told the Herald they were there to support Ms McCarthy, who had given immense amounts of help and support to their families, and many others.

Pat Feenan, who had a son raped by the late Father Jim Fletcher, has been watching proceedings. Her book about her family’s ordeal, Holy Hell, was published late last year.

One of her sisters, retired teacher Moira Thomas, said they were at the court to see justice done.

Mrs Thomas said the paedophilia scandal had made her question the Church, but not her faith: “I believe the people are the Church.”

One of their friends drew the Herald’s attention to Jesuit Father Michael Kelly, who spoke in Newcastle last week about the problems facing the Church.

The diocese website quotes Father Kelly as saying: “The present challenge . . . is an even more profound one than questioning the cultural relevance of Catholic Christianity.

“This time in the Church is a challenge to and a questioning of its credibility – moral and spiritual – and not just in Australia but North America and Europe also.”

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