The Christchurch Civic Creche Case

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NZ Herald
March 27 2008; 12:09

Rejection of inquiry into Peter Ellis creche case 'cavalier'

The rejection of a new call for a full royal commission of inquiry into the case of convicted Christchurch childcare worker Peter Ellis has been described as "cavalier" by Dunedin author Lynley Hood.

Associate Justice Minister Rick Barker told a researcher working on Ellis' case that a royal commission cannot be convened to determine the guilt or innocence of an individual as its primary purpose.

Researcher Ross Francis said today that a letter from Mr Barker made it clear the Government would not be establishing an inquiry into the case.

"He agrees with the Justice and Electoral select committee, which in 2005 concluded that a commission of inquiry was unlikely to reach a better view of the facts than was reached at Ellis' trial," Mr Francis said.

Ms Hood, an Ellis supporter and author of A City Possessed: The Christchurch Civic Creche Case, said Mr Barker's decision was frustrating.

"It's particularly disappointing in the cavalier way he has dismissed the compelling new evidence that's come forward that prompted the recent call," Ms Hood told NZPA today.

The request for a commission was made in January by Ellis' lawyer, Judith Ablett-Kerr QC, to Justice Minister Annette King, who delegated it to Mr Barker.

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

One of the seven pre-schoolers he was found guilty of abusing later retracted the allegations and three of Ellis' convictions were quashed.

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.

She 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.

Ellis has always maintained his innocence. He served two-thirds of a 10-year jail sentence.

After his High Court trial and two failed Court of Appeal 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.

Ms Hood said Prof Hayne was a highly respected psychological researcher whose work was independently peer-reviewed all around the world.

"For them to just say Sir Thomas Eichelbaum said the interviewing was all right, so it's all right... it's simply outrageous.

"It shows the Ministry of Justice is incapable of rationally and objectively evaluating new evidence."

Mr Francis said the flaws in Ellis' trial, the failure of the appeals court to address expert opinion evidence, and Prof Hayne's recent findings raised serious doubts about the safety of Ellis' convictions.

"I believe an inquiry of some description needs to be set up in order to lay the case to rest."

Ms Ablett-Kerr, who is still working on a petition to take the case to the Privy Council, was unavailable for comment today.

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 there 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.