Former priest to fight sex abuse conviction

A notorious child sex offender has launched a bid to quash his conviction by claiming he faced an unfair trial.

The former priest Brian Spillane, who was a chaplain at St Stanislaus College in Bathurst, was sentenced in April to nine years in prison for abusing three girls in the 1970s and 1980s, one of whom was aged eight.

Spillane's lawyer, Greg Walsh, has lodged an appeal against the conviction and the case will be heard in the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal next April- about the same time as the Royal Commission into child sex abuse.

Mr Walsh 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,” he said.

One of Spillane's victims was an 11-year-old relative of students known to Spillane. She was abused at her home in north-west NSW.

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 reactions 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.”

Spillane was charged in 2008 and convicted in late 2010 but his sentencing only occurred in April because Mr Walsh attempted to have the former NSW District Court judge Michael Finnane disqualified from presiding over the case.

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

Judge Finnane denied making the statements and Mr Walsh lost his bid to have him removed.

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 [the case] 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”.

When sentencing Spillane, Judge Finnane said the 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.”

Spillane has consistently denied the charges brought against him. Mr Walsh said he was pursuing the appeal for Spillane pro bono.

This story Former priest to fight sex abuse conviction first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.