The Christchurch Civic Creche Case

News Reports Index

1993 Jan-May

The Dominion
April 7 1993

Stunned and suicidal
by Murray Williams

During a two hour search of Debbie Gillespie's house, police took or examined children's games, soft toys and her guitar, but even after she was arrested she said she was too stunned to realise what was happening.

It was not till a detective said "Are you a Christian, Debbie? I don't know how you will live with your conscience for the things you have done" that the seriousness began to sink in.

"His manner was 'We know you have done something and you deserve everything you get…..and he said that he hoped there'd be plenty of news media to see us [arrive at court]."

Before she went to the cells, she said, he told her he was surprised someone who had been abused as a child could have done the same thing.

"I was so angry I said nothing because I knew it would make it worse and a few minutes later he said 'Happen on the way home from school, did it?' "

Ms Gillespie said she never told the police or her parents she had been indecently assaulted when she was five, but had confided in a former partner, who was later a prosecution witness.

"I assume it came from (her)…. I thought 'What has that got to do with it?' ….then he said 'Or is that just another of your little fantasies?' …. I think that was despicable."

Ms Gillespie, who started at the crèche in 1988 after five years primary teaching, originally faced three charges: one of doing an indecent act in a public place, one of sexual violation, and one of indecent assault.

The first was dismissed during the depositions hearing, the second withdrawn, and Mr Justice Williamson dismissed the last on March 5 when he heard the child complainant would not be available to give evidence.

Like her colleagues, Ms Gillespie was critical of the weight put on the videotaped evidence of younf children, some of whom were interviewed more than a year after leaving the crèche and after the womens' arrests had been widely publicised.

She also questioned the length of some interviews and said one child, who asked for a drink and her mother, was told there were only three more questions. The interview ended 18 pages of transcripts later.

"The whole thing just got out of hand [and] the evidence got increasingly bizarre….kids were taking bits of reality and mixing them up with fantasy."

Child sex abuse was a real issue and she could understand people being upset by things they thought had happened to their children, but there was a real danger of swinging from the view that children should never be believed to the view they should always be believed.

"I also felt that some people thought 'we don’t care if a few innocent people go down as long as you get the perpetrators.'

"The other thing that concerns is that it belittles genuine abuse ….It's really bad for the whole cause. I am exceptionally cynical now, and that's a real shame."

Ms Gillespie said the loss of her job forced her to let her house because she could not afford mortgage payments and the stress of the case had made her contemplate suicide.

"I could not have done it without anti-depressants and sleeping pills. I still owe a lot and I really feel as if my life has been ruined. I don't have the confidence to go anywhere …..there are so many people out there who want me dead.

"People mimed shooting us [outside court] and last week someone biked past and yelled something ….the last word being 'dead'."

But she said there was also a lot of goodwill and people she had not heard from for years had written and sent cards.