Wednesday briefing: Cardinal George Pell loses appeal against child sex conviction | World news

Top story: ‘I felt a responsibility to come forward’

Good morning – I’m Warren Murray bringing you the news at the start of Wednesday.

Cardinal George Pell has lost an appeal against his conviction for child sexual assault, meaning he remains the most senior Catholic official in the world found guilty of such offences. Two of three judges on the appeals court bench in Victoria, Australia, threw out his lawyers’ contention that a jury acted unreasonably when it found him guilty of molesting two choirboys in the mid-1990s. Two other grounds of appeal were dismissed unanimously. As David Marr writes, Pell “didn’t flinch” as the verdict was delivered. “His lips pursed a little as he stared at the judges … he was going back to jail.”

Pell ran the Vatican’s finances until he was charged. He may be able to appeal to Australia’s high court – otherwise he will remain in jail until at least October 2022. Through his lawyer, Vivian Waller, Pell’s surviving victim said he was relieved by the decision. “After attending the funeral of my childhood friend, the other choirboy, I felt a responsibility to come forward. I knew he had been in a dark place. I was in a dark place. I gave a statement to the police because I was thinking of him and his family.”

Secret US-Maduro talks – Nicolás Maduro has confirmed “various contacts through various channels” between top Venezuelan officials and members of Donald Trump’s White House. Maduro has been fighting for his political life since January when Juan Guaidó declared himself rightful president of the economically ravaged country and was backed by more than 50 governments including the US and UK. Maduro now says he has been seeking ways “for President Donald Trump to truly listen to Venezuela and the truth of the 21st century Bolivarian revolution … I confirm that for months there have been contacts between senior officials from Donald Trump’s government and from the Bolivarian government over which I preside – with my express and direct permission.” Earlier in the day Trump told reporters: “We’re talking to various representatives of Venezuela. I don’t want to say who, but we are talking at a very high level.” More than four million Venezuelans have fled their oil-rich but economically devastated nation, according to the UN.

Door closed on backstop – Angela Merkel is likely to give a friendly but firm rebuttal to Boris Johnson during his first overseas visit as prime minister today. Johnson’s first official proposal to the EU since taking office – another call to scrap the Ireland backstop from any Brexit deal – has been met with responses ranging from indifference to incredulity in Berlin. “The letter to the president of the European council is not a serious offer, and Boris Johnson knows it,” said Norbert Röttgen, an ally of Merkel who heads the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee. The UK government is to allocate customs passes to businesses over the next two weeks to prevent goods being held up at the UK border in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Without the passes, goods could be impounded at UK ports and airports.

Midweek catch-up

> Giuseppe Conte has resigned as Italy’s prime minister – blaming Matteo Salvini, his deputy from the far-right League party, for triggering a government crisis in an attempt to bring about elections.

> Muslim Rohingya in refugee camps in Bangladesh are refusing to return to Myanmar unless they are given their Burmese citizenship, United Nations and local officials have said.

> Italian prosecutors have ordered that 83 migrants on a charity vessel anchored off Lampedusa must be immediately disembarked due to terrible conditions on board.

> On the eve of GCSE results day, research is being published that shows disadvantaged pupils are almost twice as likely to fail maths as their wealthier classmates.

> No Greenland, no me, Donald Trump has told the Danish PM – cancelling a visit to Denmark after its prime minister bluntly refused to sell him the Arctic territory.

Spate of US terror plots – Police and the FBI say they have thwarted six mass-shooting plots in the US since the El Paso atrocity. Several appeared to involve men espousing far-right viewpoints and white supremacist ideologies. One suspect allegedly threatened a Hispanic woman and her family, praised Hitler, and called for the extermination of Spanish-speaking people, Muslims and black Americans, the FBI said. “This is the new normal,” said Brian Levin from the Centre for the Study of Hate and Extremism. “We’re not dealing with foreign-based terrorists, but the mass killer down the block.”

Kremlin shrouds nuclear accident – Russia appears to have shut off sensors monitoring a radiation leak after an explosion that might have involved a missile with nuclear-powered propulsion. After quitting a nuclear treaty, the US has tested a ground-launched cruise missile that had been excluded from service for decades. Russia called it a “provocation” but is suspected of building missiles that breach the treaty.

Practice makes a perfect research topic – A study of violinists has struck a blow to the “10,000-hour rule”: the idea that enough practice will make an expert of anyone. Researchers found that merely good players practised as much as, if not more than, better players. While the less skilful violinists lagged at an average of 6,000 hours of practice by age 20, both the good and the best musicians logged an average of 11,000 hours. Other factors such as quality of tuition, learning skills and natural talent appeared to account for the difference. Ralf Krampe, one of the original researchers whose 1993 study gave rise to the 10,000-hour rule, said nothing in the new paper changed his mind: “Do I believe that practice is everything and that the number of hours alone determine the level reached? No, I don’t. But I still consider deliberate practice to be by far the most important factor.”

Lunchtime read: Hung up on your phone?

Writer Adrienne Matei spends two hours and 20 minutes a day on her phone – which might seem fine, until you realise it amounts to 35 full days a year. How much time do you spend on your phone? Share your screen time with us here.

Young woman staring at her phone

How much time do you spend on your phone? Photograph: Francisco Navas


Justin Langer insists Australia must not be drawn into a bouncer war with England after Steve Smith was officially ruled out of Thursday’s third Test because of the lingering effects of concussion. Jimmy Anderson bowled nine overs and took two wickets for Lancashire’s second team as he began his Ashes comeback attempt, and England’s coach, Trevor Bayliss, has said that Jason Roy’s long-term Test future will lie as a middle-order batsman. Mark Robinson is to step down as the England Women’s coach after “a wonderful four years” ended with defeat in the Ashes. The rugby players’ union has called for urgent action to be taken to protect players’ mental wellbeing following stark warnings from Kearnan Myall.

No England player is keener to run around a rugby field this bank holiday weekend than Mako Vunipola, who is set to make his long-awaited comeback from injury against Ireland on Saturday. The Aston Villa youth coach Kevin MacDonald has left the club “with immediate effect” following an investigation into allegations of bullying made by a number of former young players. And a case in which China’s multiple world and Olympic swimming champion Sun Yang is accused of anti-doping violations will be held in public in a break from usual procedure.


British tech firms have secured a record £5.5bn in foreign investment in the first seven months of this year, outstripping the US in funding per capita. Firms such as renewable energy company Ovo Energy and takeaway business Deliveroo have been among the biggest beneficiaries. On the markets, sentiment was subdued ahead of the release of the minutes of the last US Federal Reserve meeting later today which might shed some light on the timing of expected rate cuts. The FTSE100 is likewise seen opening flat this morning while the pound is at $1.216 and €1.096.

The papers

Arguably rather demeaningly the Mail refers to “Boris’s Carrie” in its headline about the prime minister’s partner being denied a US visa, having met with the self-declared president of Somaliland, which Washington does not recognise as a country. The Mirror leads with a special report: “How a Trump trade deal would kill off our NHS”. It says drug costs would rise to “horrifying” levels.

Guardian front page, Wednesday 21 August 2019

Others go with Brexit. “Johnson heads to Europe after call to ditch backstop is rejected” is our headline in the Guardian. “Britain starts to walk away from EU” says the Express, as UK officials drop out of meetings in Brussels. The Metro puts it like this: “We slash EU ties in 10 days”. Similar idea on the Telegraph front, only more Telegraph-y: “Brexit starts in 10 days as envoys told to break ties”.

The Times says Johnson is warning the EU that “Rebels can’t halt no-deal”. The FT has similar Brexit coverage on its front but leads with the resignation of Italy’s PM.

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