Friday, May 14, 1993.
Interview techniques under scrutiny
The techniques used
to question children who attended the Christchurch Civic Creche about
suspected sexual abuse came under scrutiny in the High Court yesterday.
One of the two Department of Social Welfare interviewers who questioned the
11 complainants remaining in the trial of Peter Hugh McGregor Ellis, aged 35,
agreed she had used leading questions during an interview.
Both interviewers said answers to leading or direct questions could be
validated by questions designed to elicit details about the incident the
child had disclosed.
The Interviewers said questioning techniques used in relation to disclosures
were not used to obtain evidence on what information parents had passed to
their children and to explore retractions.
The 11 children have made allegations which have resulted in Ellis facing 25
charges of sexually abusing children in his care at the creche from 1986 to
1992. The last of the child complainants finished her evidence on Wednesday.
In cross-examination by Mr Robert Harrison for Ellis, an interviewer, Ms
Linda Morgan, was referred to an interview of complainant one, where the
child had said she became scared of Ellis after her mother had reminded her.
Ms Morgan said she did not know why she had not asked the child what her
mother had told her to remind her although they had talked about it later on.
She would not generally specifically ask children whether information had
come from other sources unless she suspected the child had been coached or
was just repeating something she had heard.
She could not confirm a contention that complainant seven had made no
response to her query about whether an incident had really happened after he
had said Ellis "weed on my face 800 times". Her practice was to
continue the interview if she saw a response, she said.
Her interview with complainant three had been a diagnostic interview as
opposed to an evidential interview and to en extent a "fishing"
expedition. She agreed she had asked leading questions after the girl had
said "no more sad things" had happened to her. The girl had earlier
told her mother Ellis had pulled their pants down and she was checking that
out, she said.
She had not however asked her what her mother had said.
Ms Susan Sidey, who conducted the majority of the interviews, said she and
the parents would have a background discussion about the child before the
interviews and after the interviews she would tell the parents what had been
If a child made a retraction she would normally go back and try to explore
the original disclosure, she said.
Multiple choice and leading questions would not be used in that situation nor
when asking about what parents had said to their child. In her experience
children never accurately reported what their parents had asked, she said.
Multiple choice questions sometimes had to be used with young children
because they could not generally remember a long string of information. She
did not agree anatomically correct dolls were sometimes leading and
suggestive. They helped some children and further questions could address any
concern they were suggestive, she said.
She could not confirm if complainant 10 had asked to leave the interview 14
times before doing so but the girl had appeared very anxious during the
interview. She believed she had handled the request with sensitivity by
asking questions about less threatening behaviour, and the child had
She agreed she had not asked complainant five why he said he was tricking
about allegations Ellis had urinated in his mouth. She had asked what he was
talking about and had gone back to the original disclosure to check
consistency, she said. Less time had been spent on the retraction issue than
the disclosures because disclosures were a "series of concrete
Ms Sidey said she had not thought to ask complainant 11 how she knew Ellis
had put "yucky stuff" in her mouth when she was asleep despite a
statement in a previous interview that her mother had told her Ellis might
have put it in her mouth.