The Christchurch Civic Creche Case

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Analysis of Christchurch Creche Evidential Videotapes
by Barry S. Parsonson
MA DipClinPsych PhD FNZPsS


All names amended to match the pseudonyms used in A City Possessed




Part B

Molly Sumach (DoB Sept 84) Age at interview 7 yrs 8 mo

1.0 Summary

1.1 Interviewer:

a) Potentially suggestible questions, includes social influence

b) Introduces topics indirectly in ways that could be suggestive

c) Uses prop (body diagram) in way that could prove suggestive

d) Briefed by mother

e) One interview

1.2 Possible sources of external contamination:

a) Maternal questioning

b) Punishment may possibly have motivated initial allegation

1.3 Child's demeanour:

a) Presents as histrionic, intelligent, verbally skilled, good comprehension.

b) Little evidence of emotion or distress in describing alleged abuse, laughs occasionally in amused way.

c) Uses dramatic voice and eye-movements often to emphasise points.

2.0 Interview 92/ 261 12.05.92

2.1 Origin of allegations

2.1.1 It appears that the allegations were first made in the context of Molly being punished for not wanting to stay at a fireworks display (Transcript p9). The date and location of the display are not evident from the interview, but it is possibly Guy Fawkes 1991 and may have been at the Civic Creche. Molly stated that when her parents asked her why she hadn't wanted to stay, that ". Teter was mean to me there." (p9).

2.1.2 Much of the early description (pp9-15) of 'mean' events at creche relate to alleged forceful interactions with children and rhyming name-calling. In respect of these Molly stated (p14), "Ah no no no, He, I did like him, but one day we were just found, I found out he was a mean bugger."

2.1.3. Molly describes Peter Ellis' visit to her home on her mother's birthday. She alleged Peter Ellis commented on the absence of knickers on a doll (pp16 & 18), describing this with much dramatic emphasis of face and voice. Molly, in response to a prompt from the interviewer using social influence ("Yeah and then you told mum something about ah something else that happened at the party too when you and Peter were somewhere else in the house." p18) says he "frightened" her with his imitation of a crocodile's jaws, having read her 'Peter Pan'. (pp19-20). A further suggestive prompt, again using social influence ("Right, its just that you said something to mum about urn something about ah having your hair done?" p20). This elicited the report about an exaggeratedly noisy, possibly intended-in-fun, kiss by Peter Ellis on Molly's cheek after he had done her hair. Further prompting questions including elements of social influence (p21) failed to produce additional allegations.

2.1.4 Molly alleged (pp27-28) that Peter Ellis had knocked her off the jungle gym and that her friends had jumped on his back The interviewer challenged the accuracy of Molly's report. Molly insisted that she was "..not making anything up." (p28).


2.2 Allegations re indecent touching

2.2.1 The interviewer lead Molly into the topic of tickling by asking a direct question and using social influence, "Right, OK, one of the other things that you talked to mum about was that you said urn you said that you didn't like him and urn something about something about tickling. You remember telling mum something about tickling."(p29) Molly responded (p30) "Yeah." and, subsequently, "He tickled me and Kilt"; "Lots and lots of times." ; "We couldn't stop giggling half the time.". Body parts tickled included "Under the arms." (p30) and "...on the heels" (p31).

2.2.2 This is followed up with a question probing "tickling and stuff" on other parts of the body (p31). Molly responded "Well, he'd poke you in the crotch." ; "And I would say 'Please don't do that Peter, I don't I don't like it very much.", "So Peter stopped doing that.". Molly indicated her groin, and when asked what she called that area, said, "Urn vagina." (p32). She demonstrated the alleged action with hand partially closed and cupped (Note: From the demonstration, this action would be difficult to perform unless standing behind the child. No indication of the location of the adult is sought or given.). Molly alleged that this happened also to two other children (Kiri and Henry) inside the creche "When the other teachers were at the other end looking after the deaf children." (Note: The deaf children are likely to be attending Sumner School, which Molly now attends. This suggests either confusion, memory source monitoring problems, or possibly invention. The interviewer does not attend to this oddity). Molly was asked how often this poking at her crotch occurred, she starts to say "Six."(p33) and adds "teen.". She adds "But he still did it." (p33), despite earlier (p31) having said he had stopped. In response to a direct question re always having her clothes on or not, Molly indicated her clothes were on.

2.2.3 The topic was addressed further later in the interview (pp46, 48-49) when after recapping on the statement details (p46). After checking that the alleged touching was on top of the clothes (affirmed), she explored how it felt, suggesting options (hurt, tickly, sort of nothing), Molly chose "It hurt." (p46) and added "A weeny bit.", going on to allege "When I got home I had a little cut on my vagina." (p46), to which the interviewer commented "Oh really. So it must have been quite hard!". Molly comments "His nail was long." (Note: The likelihood of this occurring through layers of clothing has to be open to question).

Comment: The interviewerleads the child into the topic using social influence and suggestive questioning relating to tickling. The notion of 'tickling and other stuff on parts of the body not yet described by Molly produces an allegation of 'poking in the crotch' and the action demonstrated by the child is one more suitable either to self-touching or to an approach from behind the child. No detail on the circumstances or context is sought by the interviewer. The child appears to provide conflicting statements concerning the stopping or continuation of the alleged action, which she says occurred six....teen times. Somehow, deaf children from Molly's primary school appear get interpolated into the narrative. A multiple choice question about feeling produces the selection of the option "hurt", but immediately moderated to "A weeny bit." The likelihood of the cut occurring through clothing might well be small. These behaviours allegedly occurred in the open creche area, which made detection more probable and complaint more likely (there is no indication of threats), as other workers would likely be in the vicinity. The interviewer puts little effort into obtaining context and related detail which might have clarified the circumstances of the alleged behaviour.


2.3 Allegation of indecent exposure

2.3.1 The interviewer subsequently (pp35-37) produces a body parts diagram and goes through the various female and male characteristics, getting Molly to identify them and note gender differences. Included were vagina, tummy button, breasts (p35), chest (male), bottom (poohs), vagina (wees) (p36), tummy buttons, and penis (p37).

2.3.2 The interviewer introduced the notion of seeing penises (p37) and asks whose penises Molly has seen ("My dad's.") ("Yeah, yeah, anyone else's) which resulted in Molly saying, "Urn, yeah, Peter's, because I saw him pull down his pants."(p38).

2.3.3 Molly indicated that this happened "in front of the toilet "and added "We saw him pulling out his penis from his pants."- which suggests he had not pulled down his pants, as first alleged. She went on (pp38-39) to suggest that this was observed by her and two male peers (Henry and Hugh) without Peter Ellis' knowledge ("Because we were peeping." p39). This latter statement was accompanied by laughter, as is a subsequent statement about a boy urinating in front of girls at school (p40).

Comment: Given the nature of the alleged events and the child's reaction (i.e., laughter), it appears unlikely that this allegation, if true, represents either an intentional 'indecent exposure' or a traumatic event for Molly. This latter point is supported by her subsequent (p41) response to the following question, "If, if urn somebody, you know, if somebody wanted to show you their penis or, or something like that..?" to which Molly responds "I would be glad to see it (Gleeful laughter).". The topic is introduced via suggestive use of the body-parts diagram and direct and suggestive questions. The child acknowledged that Peter Ellis was unaware of their presence. Given the usual design of toilets, it is difficult, without detailed diagrams, to envisage how three children could position themselves to observe the alleged event. Typically, one would expect the toilet bowl to be against the back wall of a narrow room, making the alleged observation of "him pulling out his penis from his pants." very difficult from the open doorway.


2.4 The allegation of 'Peeping"

2.4.1 The interviewer introduces (p40) the topic of seeing others' vaginas, "And what about vaginas, have you seen many vaginas?". Molly indicates she has seen her own, her mother's and her grandmother's. The interviewer appears to give permission or approval for this activity (p41), "Right. Well it's, it's urn, it's interesting to see other people's isn't it, don't you think?". Molly agrees at first, but indicates that it is private. (Note: The introduction of this topic appears intentional, leading up to the notion that others may have seen Molly's vulva).

2.4.2 Subsequently, Molly is asked (p41) who has seen her vagina. She identifies herself (p41), her parents (p42), a male creche worker called Danny (pp42-43) assisting her on the toilet and alleges Peter Ellis "peeked" (pp43-44).

Comment: Whether, if this event actually occurred, Peter Ellis a) peeked at Molly's vagina as she claimed, or b) would have seen anything if he had, is open to question. Molly made it clear in her description of toletting (pp33-34), that adult assistance was limited to holding children on the toilet and assisting them off. She insisted that wiping was done by the children themselves. No questions were asked about help in rearranging clothing, which presumably would have provided the only opportunity for any 'peeking' of the sort alleged. Molly gives no indication of distress or emotion, nor any indication of difficulty in making her allegation. She does use dramatic voice and actions.


3.0 Conclusions:

The interviewer in this case has been briefed by the child's mother and attempts to elicit the information already shared by the child with parent. It is not possible to ascertain the process of information-gathering used by the mother or to estimate the extent to which this may have contaminated evidence. The child appears first to have made the allegation after being punished for not wanting to go to a fireworks display. One possibility is that the initial allegation may have functioned to redirect or cancel parental displeasure, and thus terminate a punishing situation. The interview is punctuated by suggestive s questions which, along with social influence (e.g., "You told your mum..") is used to initiate reports on a variety of topics. In addition, topics that lead to particular types of disclosure are strategically introduced by the interviewer, often initially indirectly. The child appears to provide the required responses to such questioning techniques in most instances, although at the end of the interview (pp47-48), more is sought, without success, through an invitation to think over whether everything has been told.

The emotion displayed by the child is primarily positive throughout, with occasional breaking into amused laughter when talking about sexual topics. There are no overt indices of distress or trauma in the opinion of this writer, even when disclosing what was allegedly the most serious event, the "poking" of her crotch. There is drama in the voice and in the actions occasionally, but very much of what the writer perceived as an acted quality. The interviewer failed to explore this allegation adequately enough for a clear sense of the context and circumstances of the event to be obtained. The child's demonstration of the alleged action leaves questions as to the likelihood of an adult choosing this way to touch a child, but this may be because she is demonstrating on herself. There are important details missing from the investigation of the other allegations (indecent exposure, 'peeking').



End section of analysis of Molly interview missing