The Marlborough Express
June 26 2003

Reasonable doubt

Pressure is mounting for Justice Minister Phil Goff to order a formal inquiry into the Peter Ellis creche child abuse case, helped along by an 800-strong petition presented to Parliament this week.

The petition was triggered by author Lynley Hood's book A City Possessed in which she raises serious questions about the case, its evidence and doubts about Ellis' conviction. Supported by 140 high profile New Zealanders in politics, the judiciary, media and the arts, the petition's signatories - who include two former prime ministers, nine Queen's Counsel, three professors of law, a former judge of the High Court and 26 MPs - call for Parliament to institute a royal commission of inquiry into the case.

Mr Goff argues that new evidence is needed to order such an inquiry, however Mrs Hood and others disagree. They say that the minister has the constitutional authority to instruct the Governor-General to establish a royal commission and could do so tomorrow without either new evidence or the permission of the judiciary.

Peter Ellis was convicted and sentenced in 1993 to 10 years in prison for abusing children under his care at the Christchurch Civic Creche. He spent six-and-a-half years inside and was freed in 2000. Ellis and several women creche workers, who faced similar charges but were acquitted, have always strenuously maintained their innocence.

As well as his original trial, where all members of the jury unanimously determined that he was guilty, Ellis has twice taken his case to the Court of Appeal, where seven separate Court of Appeal judges have said there had been no miscarriage of justice. Additionally aspects of the case were investigated by a ministerial inquiry headed by former chief justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum.

None of these altered the original judicial decision, however during the second appeal to the Court of Appeal, that court indicated that the case was most suited to a Commission of Inquiry.

That has not happened yet but it is what the petition signatories, Ellis and many of his supporters fervently believe should happen next in the ongoing battle to clear his name.

Mr Goff disagrees, having changed his mind since1995 when as a member of the Opposition, he wrote to one family and said he believed a full inquiry should be held. Now he says that the original judicial decisions were made by people with the skill and the experience to do so and unless there is new evidence there is no need for a commission of inquiry.

He forgets that the judicial system, juries and individuals have been proven wrong before as in the cases of Arthur Allan Tho mas and David Dougherty. If they had not continued to protest their innocence and fight their convictions, the truth of those matters would never have come out.

Now a number of well respected New Zealanders, unquestionably sincere in their concerns that a miscarriage of justice may have happened, have added their voices to the call for an inquiry into the Ellis case. The question of reasonable doubt is present in the minds of many and it is time for Mr Goff to acknowledge that and ask the Governor-General to institute a royal commission of inquiry. He has nothing to lose except the respect - and votes - of a wide section of the community. Peter Ellis and the women staff involved have a lot to gain. After years of declaring their innocence, it might be proven that they are right and the justice system was yet again wrong.