The defence accused detectives of ‘single-mindedly’ pursuing charges against the cardinal

Australian police created a taskforce targeting Cardinal George Pell a year before any formal allegations had been made, a court heard on Wednesday.

In a hearing to decide whether the cardinal will stand trial, defence barrister Robert Richter QC said police started the operation in 2013 but failed to find accusers until a year later. When police did identify accusers, they then failed to follow normal procedures in seeking corroboration, he added.

“When [Operation] Tethering started it was an operation looking for a crime because no crime had been reported,” Richter said.

Richter asked Detective Superintendent Paul Sheridan whether the taskforce, known as Operation Tethering, was specific to Cardinal Pell. “That’s my understanding,” he responded, adding later that it was “commenced as an intel probe into what offences might have occurred”.

The investigation became an “operation” in April 2015 based on allegations of “inappropriate behaviour” but without allegations of criminal conduct, Richter added.

“It’s an operation launched without any victims,” he added. “That’s astonishing in a serious investigation of a very, very high profile suspect.”

Richter also asked Detective Superintendent Sheridan why officers did not choose to pursue more serious allegations made by some of the complainants against a teacher and a nun.

“They are supposed to look at serious sex offences … and they did absolutely nothing about the serious allegations that [two complainants] convey,” Richter said.

Sheridan rejected this, saying there could be a viable explanation, but said he did not know why police did not pursue them.

Richter also claimed that Magistrate Bellinda Wallington should disqualify herself from presiding over the hearing, claiming she had a “biased view of the evidence”. She refused the application.

The hearing is due to end on Thursday.