Manawatu Evening Standard
June 17 2003

Local QC signs petition for inquiry into Ellis case
by John Myers

Three days from deadline on the petition for a royal commission of inquiry on the Peter Ellis case, National Party list MP Katherine Rich says the petition has far more than the 100 "prominent" signatories hoped for.

And one of them is Palmerston North criminal lawyer Mike Behrens, QC.

"I signed the petition at the request of (author) Lynley Hood," Mr Behrens said yesterday. "I believe the conviction is unsafe."

Peter Ellis was convicted by a jury in 1993 on 16 child sex abuse charges arising from Mr Ellis's work at the Christchurch Civic Creche. Released from prison in 2000, he consistently asserts his innocence. The case went twice to the Court of Appeal and was subject of a ministerial inquiry.

Dunedin writer Lynley Hood's book A City Possessed, investigating the trial and its background and published in 2001, caused National MPs Don Brash and Ms Rich to launch their petition of prominent New Zealanders.

Mr Behrens reviewed the book for the Manawatu Standard, one of the most biting professional reviews the newspaper has published.

"This book has devastated me and certainly laid waste lawmakers, sexual-abuse professionals, child-protection workers, policemen, lawyers, judges, parents and any image we might have of ourselves as a thinking, caring culture, immune from nonsense," Mr Behrens wrote.

Mr Ellis had served his sentence, ". . . but still the law writhes and wrestles with the problem of his innocence."

Ms Hood had shown that an accused had but one chance before the jury. After that, he said, "the rest of the legal system is devoted to protecting itself and its own, rather than the individual".

"It is ironic that apparently we are to ditch the Privy Council because the politicians think we can handle justice ourselves. This book shows we are very much adolescent in our fumbling with it. Parliament would do much better to read this book and then move to pardon Peter Ellis."

The petition is South Island-led, but has attracted a raft of nationwide political, business, legal, academic and media support.

"It's been far more successful that we imagined it would be," Ms Rich said yesterday.

"Some of these people have said they've never signed a petition in their lives . . .

"And, importantly, we have cross-party support.".

The petition closes on Friday and is due to be presented in Parliament next Tuesday.