The Christchurch Civic Creche Case

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Poneke’s Weblog
January 30 2008

Movement at last in the Peter Ellis case:
Professor Hayne’s report prompts Royal Commission call

At last, movement in the Peter Ellis case, the worst miscarriage of justice in New Zealand since Arthur Alan Thomas. Following the damning scientific research by Otago University professor of psychology Harlene Hayne that revealed the extent of the flaws in the interviews of the Christchurch Civic Creche children (first reported by this blog), Ellis’s lawyer, Judith Ablett Kerr, QC, has asked to see Justice Minister Annette King about having a royal commission of inquiry into the case.

Annette King’s office has said she would delegate the decision to an associate minister because she is also police minister. The three associate justice ministers are Rick Barker, Clayton Cosgrove and Lianne Dalziel. I expect the latter would recuse herself from any involvement, because she has close friends who were part of the original case.

Ablett Kerr was interviewed by Mary Wilson on Checkpoint last night. This is the transcript:






January 30, 2008 at 9:31 am

Found on another Peter Ellis Case discussion group the following:

There’s two interesting points from JAK’s interview on RNZ yesterday.

First, she correctly implies that opinions can be fickle. But then she highlights the fact that Prof Hayne’s analysis is not based on opinion but on fact. So even if we discount the opinions of Ceci, Lamb, Parsonson, etc, Hayne’s findings cannot be dismissed so easily. Furthermore, her findings should be able to be replicated by other researchers, even if the definion of direct open and direct closed questions may differ slightly.

The second point - which has not been discussed previously - is that Hayne’s findings were given to JAK in 2006 (late 2006 I presume). What has JAK been doing with these findings since then? In other words, why has she waited until Jan 2008 to go to the Justice Minister? It’s almost as if she was waiting for Hayne to release the findings before going to the Minister. (But Hayne didn’t officially release her findings publicly - that was done by Poneke and then the media got hold of the story.) Anyone else find that odd? Maybe JAK’s position would have ben different if Peter had been in prison but I still find it curious that JAK appears to have been sitting on Hayne’s research for a long time.


A nice roundup of media issues re Ellis can be found here:


January 30, 2008 at 9:52 am

Poneke, is there an explanation for this curious sentence from a report in today’s “Press” I found at What would a “complication” over a couple of local MPs be, for goodness sake?

The Press
January 30 2008

Govt mulls royal inquiry for Ellis

The situation was complicated by the fact that two of the associate justice ministers, Lianne Dalziel and Clayton Cosgrove, were Christchurch MPs. That could leave the task to Labour list MP and Associate Justice Minister Rick Barker.


January 30, 2008 at 9:56 am

Lianne would recuse herself, as she knows some of the families. I know of no association Clayton has with the case.


Ross Francis
January 30, 2008 at 10:16 am

I find it bizarre that the Press would raise Dalziel’s and Cosgrove’s status as Christchurch MPs. How is it relevant? Tim Barnett was (and still is) a Christchurch MP when he chaired the justice and electoral select committee which, in 2005, rejected petitioners’ calls for a commission of inquiry into the Ellis case. However, I am certain the former had no effect on the latter.

I would also have thought that if the decision to set up a Royal commission of inquiry is made, it will be done so by Cabinet and not the Minister of Justice.

Just a quick correction to a comment from Mrs Ablett Kerr, lest readers become confused. She referred to 14,919 questions. I don’t believe this is correct. Prof Hayne counted 14,919 questions AND statements. The majority of the interviewers’ utterances were statements, not questions. This is of course consistent with her conclusion that each of the 13 kids was asked about 400 questions each (a total of 5,200 questions).


January 30, 2008 at 11:13 am

You’re obsessed with semantics. Professor Hayne called them questions.

From my account of her research, which she has confirmed as accurate:

The results of the analysis showed:

- Of the 15,000 questions put to the Civic children, only 11 were free recall ones such as “tell me what you remember about the Civic.” There were similarly few free recall questions among the 7600 put to the Wee Care children, despite controlled laboratory tests showing such questions were the most likely to produce an accurate answer.

- Civic children were asked more than twice as many “direct open” questions of the “what happened in the playroom?” kind, which could also produce accurate answers because they allowed a wide range of answers.

- Of the third type, “direct closed,” Civic children proportionately were asked fewer than Wee Care children. These were of the “was anyone with you when that happened?” kind, which allowed only a yes or no answer and were less likely to lead to an accurate response.

- The Civic children were asked more suggestive questions, such as “the other kid told me this happened. Did it?” They were the worst possible kind for obtaining an accurate answer.

“Each kid in Ellis was asked an average of 20 suggestive questions,” said Professor Hayne. “Just one can give a wrong answer in laboratory tests.”

In addition, children’s accuracy was “terrible” when they faced large numbers of questions. The 400 questions each Civic child was asked was double the number faced by the Wee Care children, yet Sir Thomas had said the Civic questioning was best practice.


Ross Francis
January 30, 2008 at 12:06 pm

“You’re obsessed with semantics”.

No, I am interested in the facts. Since when have statements morphed into questions? The majority of the utterances from the evidential interviewers were statements.


January 30, 2008 at 1:22 pm

I won’t comment on KiwiBlog but it’s always ineterested me that the women who were involved were released or acquitted, but the man was not. At the time it seemed that most of what was reported as “evidence” was fairly fanciful, and there was some research at the time to suggest that the case was unsound (the UK satanic abuse cases were collapsing at that time). I read a book (probably “SUFFER THE LITTLE CHILDREN”) that scared me a lot, especially when I later met Ann-Marie Stapp (one of the social workers involved in bringing the case) and she came across as quite unhinged. She copped quite a bollocking online at the time (FWIW, I met her in person and can confirm that it was actually her at least some of the time). Google Groups/Dejanews is quite informative in that regard).