The Christchurch Civic Creche Case

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The Press
January 30 2008

Govt mulls royal inquiry for Ellis

The Government is considering a request by the lawyers of convicted childcare worker Peter Ellis for a royal commission of inquiry into his case.

Ellis was convicted in 1993 of sexually molesting seven children at the Christchurch Civic Childcare Centre in a case that gripped the nation.

One of the preschoolers later retracted the allegations and three of the convictions were later quashed. Ellis has always maintained his innocence and is fighting to clear his name.

He served two-thirds of a 10-year jail sentence.

Justice Minister Annette King's office yesterday said it had received a letter from Ellis's lawyer, Judith Ablett-Kerr, QC, requesting a meeting to discuss the formation of a royal commission of inquiry.

A spokesman for King said she would delegate the decision to an associate because she is also Police Minister.

"The Government will obviously give due consideration to the letter," the spokesman said.

"One of Mrs King's associates will be given that delegation and that person will respond."

He said no decision had been made on who would get the task.

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.

United Future leader Peter Dunne yesterday supported the call for an inquiry.

"There is a serious risk that a grave injustice has been done to Mr Ellis and there is enough doubt over the investigation and conviction that a royal commission to examine his case is appropriate and necessary," said Dunne, who is also Revenue Minister.

"This case is in danger of being forgotten now that Mr Ellis has been released, but nevertheless he deserves the chance to clear his name, if indeed he has been wrongly convicted."

Ablett-Kerr has said she is working on a petition to take the case to the Privy Council.

The right for New Zealanders to appeal to the Privy Council was abolished in 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 Ellis case were cast last year in research findings by Otago University academic Professor Harlene Hayne.

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's High Court trial and two failed Appeals Court hearings, a 2000 inquiry by former chief justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum found the interviewing was appropriate.