The Press
June 10 2003

Goff spurns calls for Ellis probe
by Colin Espiner and Anna Claridge

Justice Minister Phil Goff has challenged author Lynley Hood to present him with fresh evidence of a miscarriage of justice in the case of convicted sex offender Peter Ellis.

Mr Goff yesterday rebuffed growing calls from prominent New Zealanders to order a Royal Commission of Inquiry into Ellis' conviction for child abuse at the
Christchurch civic creche.

A petition signed by former Labour prime ministers David Lange and Mike Moore, plus a number of lawyers, writers, and media people, has been circulating Parliament, attracting signatures across the political spectrum.

The Press understands several Labour MPs have been considering signing the petition, including backbench Government MPs David Parker, Georgina Beyer, and Russell Fairbrother. They are understood to be awaiting approval from the Labour caucus whip, David Benson-Pope. But Mr Benson-Pope told The Press that it was unlikely permission would be granted. "We don't generally respond to questionnaires or petitions unless there is an agreed caucus position. I wouldn't be expecting members of the Labour caucus to be supporting it."

National MPs Don Brash, Katherine Rich, and Judith Collins have already signed, along with ACT deputy leader Ken Shirley and MPs Stephen Franks, Rodney Hide, and Muriel Newman.

Green co-leaders Rod Donald and Jeanette Fitzsimons, and MPs Keith Locke and Sue Bradford have also signed, as has United Future leader Peter Dunne.

Mr Goff said yesterday that he would only send the Ellis case for further review if Hood produced fresh evidence.

"I have always said I have an open mind on the question of the conviction of Peter Ellis. (But) I draw attention to the fact that he was convicted by a jury (and) he has had his case twice before the Court of Appeal."

Mr Goff said he had also sent the case to former Chief Justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum, who found the case failed "by a distinct margin" to demonstrate any miscarriage of justice.

He conceded he had the power to set up a Royal Commission but said fresh evidence was needed. Mr Goff said an application for a Royal prerogative of mercy was another avenue open to Ellis supporters.

"I would certainly invite anybody, including Lynley Hood, that if evidence that she believes has not been carefully considered ... to organise an application for the Royal prerogative."

ACT MP Stephen Franks said he had signed the petition because it was clear that judges were very reticent to overturn convictions for fear it would destabilise the justice system.

Mr Hide said he had signed because of long-standing concerns about the safety of the conviction. "I was in
Christchurch at the time and it just seemed to me to be mass hysteria."

"I signed it because he shouldn't have been convicted," Associate Professor James Allan, of
Otago University said. "There are two questions here. Did he do it? And should he have been convicted? I'm not really an over-the-top kind of guy but clearly you can see this man should not have been convicted. Personally, I don't think he did it, but that doesn't matter. It's about the evidence he was convicted on."

Mr Allan said Mr Goff could "grant a pardon tomorrow".

"But I'm not optimistic for him (Ellis). You're left with the impression that there are too many people who would have to admit they made a mistake."

In April,
Canterbury's Criminal Bar Association added weight to calls for a further inquiry. Mr Goff wrote to the association saying the calls were "completely unrealistic".

Canterbury University law professor John Burrows said yesterday the high level of uncertainty surrounding Ellis' case warranted further investigation.

"I'm not saying he's innocent. I don't strongly believe either way, but I have heard and read enough to know we need to rehear this case. It's the nearest thing to Arthur Alan Thomas that I have seen."