The Press
June 23 2003

Ex-judge backs new Ellis probe
by David McLoughlin

A retired High Court judge is among the latest public figures to back a petition calling for a royal commission into the Christchurch Civic Creche child abuse case.

National Party MPs Katherine Rich and Don Brash will present the petition to Parliament tomorrow after a ceremony attended by many of the women creche workers who lost their jobs or were arrested during the abuse investigation in which fellow worker Peter Ellis was jailed for 10 years.

Most such ceremonies take place on the steps of Parliament, but Speaker Jonathan Hunt has given permission for it to be held inside in a select committee room, officially because the weather might be bad outside.

Former Labour prime ministers David Lange and Mike Moore are among more than 100 public figures who signed the petition, which the Mrs Rich and Dr Brash started after
Dunedin writer Lynley Hood slammed Ellis' convictions in her award-winning book, A City Possessed.

Many of the petition signatories are senior members of the legal profession, but having one from a High Court judge, who was on the bench during the years of Ellis' trial and unsuccessful appeals, is likely to be significant.

Mrs Rich said yesterday that the name of the former judge would be made public when the petition is presented tomorrow.

Sitting Labour MPs were advised by chief whip David Benson-Pope not to sign the petition, but transsexual Wairarapa MP Georgina Beyer has.

Former Civic Creche supervisor Gaye Davidson will be among several former staff attending tomorrow's ceremony.

She and Lynley Hood have been asked to speak.

Ellis, who was paroled in 2000 after always protesting his innocence, said he would not attend. He had never met Mrs Rich or Dr Brash and did not want anyone to think he was behind their petition. He was very pleased that his former co-workers would be at Parliament and hoped justice would eventually win. In possibly the most controversial case since the 1970 murder conviction of Arthur Allan Thomas, Ellis was convicted in 1993 of 16 charges of abusing pre- schoolers at the civic creche. The Court of Appeal twice turned down appeals by Ellis. A 2001 report for Justice Minister Phil Goff by former chief justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum said Ellis had failed "by a distinct margin" to prove his innocence.

Mr Goff said recently that he retained an open mind on the case but wanted "new evidence" before he could reopen it.

Mrs Rich said the petition would be hard to ignore because of the standing of the legal, political, and other public figures who had signed it.