The Christchurch Civic Creche Case

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NZ Herald
January 29 2008; 13:33

Peter Ellis' lawyers seek Royal Commission

Peter Ellis has been fighting his convictions of child abuse, imposed in 1993.
Photo / Christchurch Star


Peter Ellis has been fighting his convictions of child abuse, imposed in 1993. Photo / Christchurch Star

The lawyers for convicted childcare worker Peter Ellis are seeking a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the case.

Ellis was convicted in 1993 of sexually molesting children at the Christchurch Civic Creche where he worked.

One of the seven preschoolers he was found guilty of abusing later retracted the allegations and three of Ellis' convictions have since been quashed.

Ellis, who has always maintained his innocence and is fighting to clear his name, served two-thirds of a 10-year jail sentence.

Ellis' lawyer Judith Ablett-Kerr has sent a letter to Justice Minister Annette King requesting a meeting to discuss the formation of a Royal Commission of Inquiry, a spokesman from her office told NZPA.

Ms Ablett-Kerr is also still working on a petition to take the case to the Privy Council.

If Ellis' case does make it to the Privy Council it may be one of the last New Zealand cases heard there.

The right for New Zealanders to appeal to the Privy Council was abolished from January 1, 2004, with the establishment of the Supreme Court.

But appeals can still be made in cases where the Court of Appeal made its final judgment or decision before that date.

Fresh doubts about the evidential interviews of children in the case were cast last year in research findings by Otago University academic Professor Harlene Hayne .

Prof Hayne said there was a "strong risk" that the evidence of children who told of sexual abuse by Ellis was contaminated by the way the interviews were carried out.

She urged the courts to consider the case again.

After Ellis' High Court trial and two failed Appeals Court hearings, a ministerial inquiry conducted by former Chief Justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum in 2000 found the interviewing of the children was appropriate and had not been undermined or contaminated by others.

But after analysing hundreds of pages of verbatim transcripts of the pre-trial interviews with the very young children involved in the Christchurch creche case and comparing them with a very similar American case, Prof Haynes has taken issue with Sir Thomas' conclusions.

She found the Christchurch children were each subjected to an average 400 questions by Social Welfare Department specialist staff, compared with 200 in the American case.

In the American case a daycare worker was released after an appeal to the Supreme Court, which found the children's interviews were "highly improper" with interviewers using "coercive and unduly suggestive methods".