The Press
June 10 2003

by Geoff Collett

The Peter Ellis case has prompted more scrutiny, debate, and speculation than most in New Zealand's legal history. Yet 10 years after his convictions on sex abuse charges involving children at a Christchurch creche, the issue refuses to die.

It might be expected that the hundreds of thousands of words, three court hearings, four petitions seeking his pardon, and numerous other campaigns around the very strange case of Peter Ellis would have worn out most people's patience and interest in the case by now.

Yet 10 years to the week since Ellis' conviction in a case which has attracted about as much debate, scrutiny, re-litigation, and speculation as any in this country's legal history, it seems the enthusiasm for his cause is not flagging, but attracting more impetus than ever.

What is especially remarkable about the latest campaign to clear Ellis' name of his paedophilia convictions is that lining up behind this most unconventional character are various of the most formidable pillars of
New Zealand society and the establishment: former prime ministers, eminent academics, famous artists, members of Parliament, and leading journalists.

Ellis should hardly need any introduction, certainly not in
Christchurch -- a city which was gripped (or possessed, as it has been famously put) by the stories of bizarre goings-on at the Christchurch civic creche from 1986 to 1991.

Ellis, a worker at the creche, was suspended in late 1991, then arrested after children there made complaints that he had sexually abused them.

Numerous now infamous allegations emerged of what happened to creche children, such as being sexually violated with needles, involved in bizarre and violent sexual rituals, forced to drink urine, defecated on, and much more.

Much was made of Ellis' sexual banter and his bi- sexuality, his behaviour towards children, and his drinking habits at the time.

Disbelievers claimed the stories were figments of young children's imaginations, that the whole case was mass hysteria stoked by and catching up well- meaning but seriously misguided adults (parents, police, lawyers, judges, social workers).

The torrent of claims implicated other creche workers and tore the fabric of the
Christchurch community, but it was only Ellis who was convicted, in June 1993.

He was in effect found to have urinated on children, put his penis in their mouths and against their private parts, and taken them to locations where indecencies were performed on them.

He told The Press shortly before a High Court jury found him guilty on 16 charges (three of which were later overturned after the complainant said she had lied): "Since 1991 I have on every available opportunity denied the charges and will continue to do so until the day I die."

Whatever is made of Ellis, nobody could deny that he has lived up to that promise. He reinforced his determination by refusing to attend parole hearings which could have secured him early release from prison, because he felt to do so would be an admission of guilt.

But it is the words of others, most notably 230,000 of them penned by the
Dunedin writer and researcher Lynley Hood, which have kept alive his hopes of one day having his convictions overturned.

Assessments of Hood's 2001 book, A City Possessed, vary depending on which side of the argument the critic comes from, but few if any have denied it is a compelling and formidable tome -- it won one of the country's top literary awards last year.

Hood has long maintained that she was never a crusader for Ellis, but her seven years of study of the civic creche case convinced her that the justice system had gone badly awry; that not only was the safety of Ellis' convictions in doubt, but so were checks and balances in the justice system which, in her words, had never properly scrutinised its own shortcomings in the case. Such doubts are apparently the central if not sole reason for the dozens of esteemed New Zealanders who have agreed to add their name to the latest call for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the creche case.

Hood has actively lobbied and campaigned for more support for and recognition of her conclusions, and has reported receiving hundreds of letters of support.

Former Reserve Bank governor and now National MP Don Brash is leading the campaign to gather signatures for the petition before it is presented to Parliament -- probably before the end of this month -- in the hope that it will be referred on for consideration by a select committee, and ultimately force the long-demanded royal commission.

He says he was compelled to act after reading the book; so was his caucus colleague and Hood's fellow Dunedin-ite, Katherine Rich, who is helping round up signatories, focusing on the respected and the eminent.

They want to get 100 such names to present to Parliament and say they are three-quarters of the way there.

Their approach is broad, asking for the royal commission to enquire into all aspects of the creche investigation and legal processes, and to be run by non-
New Zealand judges.

There is also an army of Ellis' detractors and those convinced of his guilt, and many who remain distressed that the case refuses to go away so the children (now teenagers) can get on with their lives.

Hood herself acknowledged the desirability (although not the likelihood) of achieving that closure -- her perspective expressed in one interview yesterday is that those victims, "deserve to know the truth and to go forward into adulthood with the whole thing sorted".

Peter Ellis A Case History

June 1993 -- Peter Ellis found guilty of 16 of 25 charges of abusing children in his care at the Christchurch Civic Creche, and sentenced to 10 years jail.

September 1994 -- Court of Appeal rejects Ellis' first appeal, but quashes three convictions after one of the child complainants says she lied.

June 1995 -- Government rejects the first formal call for an independent inquiry.

July 1996 -- Trust formed with the backing of several
Canterbury University academics, to raise money for an Ellis fighting fund.

December 1997 -- Ellis' lawyer, Judith Ablett-Kerr QC (who took up his case after his conviction), files her first petition seeking a pardon or rehearing of Ellis' case with the Governor-General, Sir Michael Hardie Boys.

March 1998 -- Sir Michael refers the case back to the Court of Appeal.

June 1998 --The
Appeal Court says it will confine its rehearing into the specific concerns about the case raised in the petition, with the hearing scheduled for 1999.

November 1998 -- Ablett-Kerr announces a second petition to the Governor-General seeking a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the whole case.

May 1999 -- Sir Michael turns down the second petition, but agrees to widen the terms of the case which can be referred to the
Appeal Court.

July 1999 --Court of Appeal hearing opens.

September 1999 -- Ellis' mother, Lesley, travels to Parliament to deliver a personal request for a Royal Commission of Inquiry.

October 1999 -- The
Appeal Court rejects Ellis' case; Ablett-Kerr immediately sets to work on her third petition, again seeking a Royal Commission of Inquiry.

February 2000 -- Ellis released from prison after serving the mandatory two-thirds of his sentence.

March 2000 -- Justice Minister Phil Goff announces a ministerial inquiry into the case, headed by former Chief Justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum, focused on the reliability of evidence given by children in the trial.

March 2001 -- Sir Thomas' findings are released, concluding that issues around the evidence against Ellis were handled properly and Ellis' case for pardon had failed.

October 2001 -- Lynley Hood's book, A City Possessed, published, prompting a wave of fresh concern about the case.

July 2002 -- Phil Goff receives a briefing paper from his officials on Hood's book, concluding that there is nothing in it to alter the conclusions of Eichelbaum's inquiry.

June 2003 -- Fourth petition, seeking a royal commission, is launched.


Peter Ellis' mother, Lesley, after delivering her personal request for a royal commission, in September 1999:

"There are just too many concerns about a range of Government departments.
It's not just the police. It's the Education Department, ACC, Social Welfare, and the whole Justice Department which have to be questioned."


Ellis at the end of his jail term:

"Just because I've been released from prison, the fight to clear my name does not stop. It goes on and I do not intend to stop until my name is cleared and the truth is out for everyone's sake, including the children."


A parent of one of the abused children after Sir Thomas Eichelbaum threw out Ellis' case for a pardon:

"He's had a High Court trial, two appearances before the Court of Appeal, two petitions to the Governor-General for a pardon, and now a ministerial inquiry. He's lost all of them, so as far as we're concerned the scoreline is children six, convicted paedophile nil."


Bob Hardie, a former police investigator now involved in a pie business, in September 2001:

"When you're out there selling pies people still ask, `so is he guilty?' and I still answer `yes, I'm satisfied justice was done'."


Lynley Hood, at the time of her book's release:

"I'm going to leave it to people to make up their own minds, but I haven't found a shred of evidence of guilt."


One of the creche children's parents on Hood's book:

"She's a little miss smarty pants, and she's fired some cheap shots at us. She's simply become an apologist for a paedophile."


Peter Ellis, on the book:

"What Lynley Hood has done is present the Government with a royal commission report at no cost to the taxpayer."