The Christchurch Civic Creche Case

News Reports Index

1993 June-Dec

The Press
June 10, 1993

Ellis abuse signs 'missed'
by Robin Munro

Staff seemed unaware of warning signs shown by convicted child sex abuser Peter Ellis in his handling of children at the Christchurch Civic Childcare Centre, a report released yesterday says.

He was observed being rough with children and humiliating and threatening them. The report also said Ellis's personal behavioural problems included recognised pointers to his being a potential abuser.

Ellis, convicted last week on 16 of 25 charges, was said to have displayed inappropriate behaviour that went largely unchecked by other staff during his five years at the centre.

The report was commissioned by the Christchurch City Council in March 1992 and prepared by a psychologist, Ms Rosemary Smart, director of the Campbell Centre, a counselling service run by the Presbyterian Church.

The council released the report, dated July 1992, yesterday. Police say it backs up their approach to what was New Zealandís biggest child sex abuse inquiry.

Another report, by the Education Review Office and taken in the month of Ellis's suspension from the centre in 1991, found nothing untoward at the centre.

Ms Smart's report found Ellis's overt and covert maltreatment of children was "obvious".

She interviewed nine childcare staff at the creche and the supervisor. Staff had been largely disbelieving that abuse could have occurred at the centre and, with one exception, struggled to believe Ellis had sexually abused anyone.

They had observed Ellis insulting, ridiculing, threatening, and humiliating children, she said.

He called them names and was sarcastic to them.

Ellis also withheld affection and compassion and was seen "pulling, pushing, shoving, and yanking" them.

Such behaviour could be used to gain compliance or obedience from young children, the report says.

In some cases staff dealt with Ellis's behaviour, but "over-all, however, it is surprising that there was such acceptance of behaviour that was obviously inappropriate and unethical".

"Staff knowledge of the detection and response to sexual abuse was minimal to non-existent."

Ms Smart said staff members told her that even if they had been trained to detect sexual abuse they would not have identified it because indicators seen at the centre, such as children wetting their pants, were isolated.

She also found that Ellis displayed signs of emotional disturbance, substance abuse, criminal behaviour, sexual difficulties, poor judgment, and insensitivity and punitiveness towards children. All these behaviours could have helped identify him as a potential sexual abuser, the report says.

Ellis has continued to protest his innocence. The former supervisor of the centre, Ms Gaye Davidson, has said she had never seen anything to doubt Ellis.

Ms Smart said the reasons why Ellis's abuse was not recognised was that he was popular with staff and parents, who appreciated his creativity and energy.

"The alleged abuser was trusted as a friend and allowances were made for him."

Ms Smart said Ellis's outrageous speech and behaviour and possibly his bisexuality, led to him being perceived as "different". Staff and parents did not seem to apply "usual boundaries" to him.

When challenged about inappropriate behaviour by staff, Ellis had generally "changed direction" and not repeated the behaviour in front of that person again.

Ms Smart said the centre's liberal tradition, supported by liberal parents, may have made challenging unusual behaviour more difficult

The police said yesterday the release of the report was a rebuff to those who had been critical of the judgment and professionalism of the Ministry of Education and the police.

The city council report contradicted the November 1991 Education Review Office review of the centre that found nothing untoward.

Ellis was not present at the time of the ERO review.

It found staff interactions supported children's wellbeing and encouraged growth and development.

"The centre provides a warm, accepting, and welcoming environment where personal wellbeing is promoted.

"Children appear happy and confident They have high self-esteem," a report on the review said.

The Canterbury district manager of the office, Mr Graham Cochrane, said nothing was mentioned about sexual abuse to the office's two reviewers.

The requirements for licenses for early childhood education centres had since changed and included a child abuse charter.

The office's chief review officer, Dr Judith Aitken, said yesterday inspections of childcare centres and schools with as little notice as 30 minutes could be made by the office in the future