Pell moved from prison as drone sparks spying fears

Police are investigating the suspected use of a drone to spy on George Pell at a maximum-security prison.

Pell has been transferred out of the Melbourne Assessment Prison on the edge of the CBD, after the serious ­security breach was uncovered by corrections authorities.

The Catholic cardinal - a former Archbishop of Melbourne and more recently treasurer at The Vatican in Rome - has been in custody since last February on child-sex offences.

Cardinal George Pell leaves the Supreme Court of Victoria in June 2019. Picture: AAP
Cardinal George Pell leaves the Supreme Court of Victoria in June 2019. Picture: AAP

The drone was sighted on Thursday, sources saying it was hovering near a visitors' garden. One theory is that the drone was being used by a media organisation or individual in an attempt to get photos or video footage of Pell.

They could fetch big money because of high international interest in his case.

Pell has now been moved to ­Barwon Prison, near Geelong.

"Corrections Victoria can confirm an incident involving a drone flying over the Melbourne Assessment ­Prison on Thursday," a Department of Justice spokeswoman said.

"Corrections Victoria has referred this matter to Victoria Police for ­investigation," she added.

Pell has been moved to Barwon Prison, near Geelong. Picture: Mark Wilson
Pell has been moved to Barwon Prison, near Geelong. Picture: Mark Wilson

There has been concern for years about the security risks posed by drones flying over Victoria's jails.

They have previously encroached on the MAP, as well as the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre at Deer Park, the Metropolitan Remand Centre and the new jail at Ravenhall.

Authorities fear they will be used to drop drugs, phones and other contraband behind jail walls.

Cardinal George Pell leaves at Melbourne Magistrates' Court in May 2018. Picture: Getty Images
Cardinal George Pell leaves at Melbourne Magistrates' Court in May 2018. Picture: Getty Images

In 2018, the state government brought in a maximum penalty of two years behind bars for anyone caught with a drone within 120m of a jail or youth justice centre, or flying one over them.

Pell is serving a maximum sentence of six years for abusing two choirboys in the 1990s, while he was Archbishop of Melbourne.

He was convicted in the County Court of one count of sexual penetration of a child under 16 and four charges of an indecent act with a child under 16. The verdict was upheld in the Court of Appeal later last year.

But Pell's legal team then successfully petitioned the High Court of Australia, and a full bench of judges will this year hear his last-ditch bid to overturn the convictions.

aneeka.simonis@news.com.au