The Christchurch Civic Creche Case

News Reports Index

1993 Jan-May

The Press
April 8 1993

Crèche parents call for inquiry

Calls for an inquiry and speculation about compensation were among reactions yesterday to the discharge of three crèche workers.

Ms Gaye Davidson, Ms Janice Buckingham, and Mrs Marie Keys were discharged by the High Court on Tuesday of one charge each that they indecently assaulted a child in their care.

After their discharge they described the six months following the laying of charges against them as a nightmare and said the allegations had ruined their lives.

Several parents yesterday called for an inquiry into the events resulting in the closing of the Christchurch Civic Childcare Centre and the charges against the women.

Mrs Patricia Dia who had two children at the crèche, called for an inquiry into the training and expertise of Social Welfare Department staff who interviewed children about abuse.

The department's Children and Young Persons' Service programme manager, Ms Anne Caton, said the three women's discharge yesterday had "absolutely not" discredited the interviewing unit.

The Christchurch police said they did not want to enter a public discussion in relation to the three women "in view of the unusual Instruction" from the judge who discharged them.

Mr Justice Williamson warned yesterday that he would not hesitate to recommend prosecution for contempt if there was any comment "which reflects generally upon the witnesses who are to give evidence or Peter Ellis or other aspects of his trial."

Peter Ellis is the only one of five crèche workers originally charged with indecencies against children to face trial. Ms Deborah Gillespie was discharged last month.

In his ruling, His Honour said he would have preferred his judgment on the three other women workers to have been given publicly because "It would explain to the public why this court has acted in the way it has." He was, however, conscious of the importance of a fair trial for Peter Ellis.

The women and their lawyers will consider the issue of seeking compensation during the next month.

Ms Davidson said the priority was the question of reimbursement for cnsls incurred in defending the charges. The women would then look nt bringing a damages claim against the authorities, she said.

The women had legal aid but were required to contribute $25,000 to the costs. Their individual contributions were determined by their personal circumstances.

Defence costs incurred in the 11-week District Court depositions hearing and two weeks of hearings into pre-trial applications in the High Court are expected to exceed $120,000.

A discharge does not automatically entitle the women to reimbursement for costs incurred in their defence.

Under the Costs and Criminal Cases Act 1967 the courts ask whether the prosecution was reasonably and properly brought and pursued, and whether the accused brought the charges on their own heads.

Costs are awarded according to a scale unless the accused can show the case had special difficulty, complexity, or importance.

A Wellington barrister and member of the Law Society's criminal law committee, Mr Gary Turkington, said the women would have to show the police had acted in bad faith to succeed in a damages claim.

Damages actions against the police in New Zealand for humiliation and stress were very rare, he said.

"Plaintiffs have to show the police did not have a case to start with, and did not have a shred of evidence," he said.

Mr Turkington said aggrieved clients often preferred to let the matter drop because of the emotional and financial cost of bringing an action and the additional material that might be raised in a civil trial.

Ms Davidson said the cause of the women's ordeal "was too big an issue to walk away from".

"No doubt it will be exhausting but we must see it through," she said. "I can't see what else could come out. We still have nothing to hide."

Persona] grievances taken by the four women originally charged, and nine other former centre employees against their employer, the Christchurch City Council, were proceeding, the secretary of the Southern Local Government Officers' Union, Mr Peter Lawson, said.