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 D

Lara Palm (DoB Jan 86?) Age at first interview 6yrs 2 mo

 


1.0 Summary:

1.1 Interviewer:

a) Frequent use of closed, suggestive and/ or multiple choice questions

b) Use of dolls, toys and drawing to demonstrate experiences

c) Interviewer briefed by mother

1.2 Possible sources of external contamination:

a) Parental questioning possibly repeated over time

b) Mother has helped re possible location of building (City Council)

c) Attends school with other former creche children, visits another.

d) May be attending counselling with a person named Hildegard

1.4 Child's demeanour:

a) Quiet spoken, sometimes whispers.

b) No overt displays of emotion or distress.

c) At times appears tired or bored.

 

2.0 Interview 92 / 96 09.03.92

2.1 Allegation of Peter Ellis inserting penis in Lara's mouth.

2.1.1 Lara initially (pp6-7) makes a complaint that Peter [presumably' Ellis] tickled her on her feet and tummy, and that this was 'scary' because he kept doing it and didn't stop.

2.1.2 Lara, when asked who Peter is (p7), described him as "..a very mean man and he wants children to feel scared.", and that she felt "scared" (p7). A suggestive question followed, "...the tickling made you feel scared of him?"(p7). Lara was given a doll, and identified (p8) tummy, backs, neck as tickling sites. She stated (p9) that Peter was avoided when he tried to tickle and that creche staff (Debbie and Jan) had been told, but that Peter continued to do it.

2.1.3 Lara's next complaint was that Peter took and ate a gherkin from her lunch box.

2.1.4 She then made the following allegation (p10), "He did some things that he calls drinking games, and he went into the toilets and one day he had said he had lollies in his pocket to give children, but he didn't, he really just um had, he'd really did went in and he made children put Peter's penis in their mouth." Asked how she knew this, she replied "Because I was there and he made them and did it to me." Lara went on to say that one of the workers, Marie knew this had happened, "Because she um was just going into the door of the toilets to check what Peter was doing and she saw him putting um his penis, making children put his penis in their mouth.". Asked how she knew Marie had seen it, Lara said, "Because um I was, I ran out and I telled her that."(p10). (Note: Given the seriousness of this allegation, presumably Marie could validate the claim that she was told by Lara and that she saw the event described.).

2.1.5 Lara stated (p11) that two other children, a Bart and Mary, were present in the toilets too. The location was identified as, "It was just in the area where the toilets were." (Note: A plan of the toilet area would help establish the layout and give some insight into the environment in which the alleged events occurred in order to explicate the potential for such behaviours to occur generally undetected by other children or staff coming to the area without warning.).

2.1.6 Asked how many times it went into her mouth, Lara replied, "It went in lots of days, it went in for lots of days."; "It went in lots of times in one day." (p11). She described it as tasting "A bit yucky."; and "Horrible." (pH ); "And it made us feel scared and we wanted to tell someone." (p12). The interviewer suggested that Lara had told Marie (Note: The interviewer assumed that this statement related to the occasion referred to in 2.1.4 above and suggested Marie. This may or may not have been the case, an open-ended question would have allowed the child to say to whom she had told.). Lara said that Marie had said "...alright then, I'll try and stop Peter doing that, and she tried to but he pretended not to listen again.". (Note: Presumably, Marie could confirm this).

2.1.7 In describing where Ellis' hands were, Lara said, "He just holding us on the shoulders to makes sure um that we were all still and that, but.." (p12). (Note: At this stage no contextual information is sought, in terms of the relative positions of the children to Ellis during the alleged event, whether he and / or they were seated or standing, whether the events occurred one at a time with individual children or whether the other children Lara says were involved also were present in the toilet area before and/or after it happened to her, and whether she saw it happening to others before or after it happened to her.).

2.1.8 Asked about Peter's clothes, Lara described his underwear and trousers unzipped and pulled down around his ankles and his top pulled up (p12) and "making" the children put his penis in their mouth. (Note: No information was obtained on how the children were 'made' to perform this act, and whether Ellis inserted the penis or the children were somehow made to apply their mouth to his penis.). In response to direct, suggestive questioning (p13), "Yeah, did it move or stay still?"; "And was it um soft or hard or floppy or hanging down or..?", Lara selected, "It stayed still." and "Floppy and hanging down.".

"Floppy and hanging down. Was it always floppy and hanging down?"(p13), to which Lara responded, "Um it was, always was floppy and hanging down.". (Note: If this description is at all accurate, the questions that arise relate to the relative body positions and locations, and to how the flaccid penis was inserted into the child's mouth, given that this could be a difficult exercise?). Asked what Peter was doing in the toilets with the children (p13), Lara replied, "Um he was trying to make us put his penis in our mouth." (p14).

Comment: Given that the alleged events reportedly involved a number of children being assaulted on numerous occasions, in the toilet area (rather than in the toilet cubicles), that Ellis had his pants around his ankles, and that Lara reported them to a staff member who observed the event and remonstrated with Ellis, the chances of his being caught in the act and/or reported to authorities seem extremely high. Ellis' penis is described as flaccid and still while inserted. No detail was sought or obtained on critical aspects of context such as relative body positions, how the penis was inserted and retained in the child's mouth, or whether anything such as urination or ejaculation occurred.

2.2 Allegation of indecent assault:

2.2.1 Asked a direct multiple-choice question (p14), "Hmm mmm. Was he doing anything else in the toilets with the kids or not?", Lara replied, "He was touching our private parts.", which she identified as "Bottom and clitoris.", with his hands. (Note: The use of the anatomical term clitoris is unusual by a child of this age in the writer's experience and suggests specific anatomical education, if not some' sex education.) In response to direct questions, Lara indicated that this had been done to "Um all what children that were there in the toilet.", "It happened to me.", "About lots of times." In response to further direct questioning she also alleged, "Yeah, I think he hitted us, he hitted us on our back and kicked us right there (indicated bottom)." (p14). (Note: No effort was made to ascertain the context of this allegation, whether the behaviour alleged occurred at the same time or on some other occasion, or whether Lara had any idea of it's purpose, e.g., was it part of some threat. The latter may be important to understand, since the likely effects could either be that a child would report such beating and subsequently disclose any other alleged events, or be frightened into silence if there was some associated threat.).

2.2.2 Lara stated Ellis had used his hands and fingers on top of her clothes (p15) and demonstrated very brief touching on a doll.

2.2.3 Asked (p16), "Okay, was it always on top of your pants?", Lara added to her initial allegation, "Yeah, but sometimes when we were on the toilet he sometimes did secret touching then too?". She alleged touching of genitalia and bottom. To suggestive multiple choice questions she said it felt sore when she went to the toilet and that Ellis had threatened her as follows, "He just said don't tell your parents or else you'll turn into a gherkin and get eaten up."(p17), stating (p18) that this had inhibited her from telling her parents until recently when her parents had asked her to tell. Lara noted that on the previous night her mother had asked her if she had wanted to talk about Peter and she had. (Note 1: The threat apparently had not stopped her from telling creche workers) (Note 2: The form and content of parental questioning can be problematic if it is at all suggestive and / or includes reinforcement (reward) for telling because the process may contaminate subsequent evidence and result in rehearsal of inaccurate information that then appears to be provided spontaneously in any subsequent evidential context.)

2.2.4 Lara, when asked to demonstrate (p19) on a doll just how she had been touched appeared briefly to place a finger in the groin area on each occasion. In response to a suggestive multiple-choice question, "Did his hands move or stay still?", said "They just went like that [quickly puts finger on doll's groin] and his hands moved [action on doll does not show this movement].".

2.2.5 Lara said that when the touching stopped, "He pulled them [pants and underpants] up and zipped them up again and he then walked out of the toilets and took us with him." (p19). (Note: This description implies that there was more than one child involved at any one time).

Comment: This allegation arose as a result of direct, suggestive questioning. There was little attempt to ascertain the circumstances or context in relation to the preceding allegation. Further, there was no attempt to explore the alleged associated physical abuse. The questioning on key points often involved use of direct and/ or suggestive multiple-choice questions rather than on having the child provide some narrative account.

There is an implication that Ellis had his clothing down, but the interviewer takes no steps to clarify whether this alleged event is separate from or concurrent with the previously alleged penis in the mouth incident, when she alleged his pants and underwear were taken down (p12). Lara also implies that this took place in a toilet cubicle while the child was on the toilet, whereas the previous allegation specified the 'toilet area', further she used the plural 'us', suggesting that there were numbers of children present. It is difficult, without knowing the layout of the toilet area, to ascertain how possible events such as those described might be under the conditions described by the child.

An expected behavioural effect of repeated sexual and physical abuse on the children by Ellis would be either increased resistance to attending the creche by the children or an evident avoidance of him or aversion toward him. This issue seems not to arise or to be explored by the interviewer. Further, one might have anticipated some difficulty or emotion with discussing painful recollections, but no difference is really evident when these are dealt with in the interview.

2.3 Allegations of 'secret touching' and physical abuse outside the gate.

2.3.1 Lara alleged (p19) that the children were taken from the toilet to "outside the gate" (p19), where further "secret touching" had occurred. It transpired that this "secret touching" involved tickling (p19) on the tummy and back (p20). Asked "Is that secret touching or a different sort of touching?", Lara said "Different sort...", and went on to allege, "...and he also hitted us and kicked us to hurt us so we tried to go inside."(p20).

Comment: Lara does not always discriminate, in her use of the term 'secret touching', between non sexual and sexual touching. The interviewer made no attempt to explore this alleged incident or the allegation of physical abuse. As a consequence the allegation hangs in the air and there is no way to place it in any sort of context or to test it's validity, despite the fact that it leaves a negative impression that Ellis may have been doing other harmful things. No evidence of emotional distress was apparent in relating these events.

2.4 Revisiting allegations of indecent 'secret touching':

2.4.1 The interviewer introduces the topic of being touched on the bottom (p20). Of note here is further evidence of Lara's sophisticated anatomical knowledge because, when asked where the poohs comes out she says, "Your anus."(p20). The interviewer asks a leading question, "Okay. And so what, whereabouts did his hand go?", to which Lara replied, "On our bottom.". A further leading question was posed, "Did it go near the anus or not?", and answered, "No." (p20). The response then was changed to "It went over the anus." (p21).

Comment: This additional detail was obtained primarily by leading and/or suggestive questioning. Lara evidenced no change in emotion when giving these details.

2.5 Revisiting the allegation of insertion of penis in mouth:

2.5.1 The interviewer returns to this allegation (p21) to check how Lara knew it had happened to other children. She responded, "Because I was there when it happened to them." and identified three children, Kari, Mary, and Bart (p21). ( Note: Previously (p11, see 2.1.5 above) only two children (Mary and Bart) were identified). When asked how she felt when she saw it being done to Bart she stated, "Um I went over and thought about [inaudible] and whispered in his ear that we could run out and tell the other creche workers.". Asked, "And did you do that or not?", she replied, "We did that." Asked "And who did you tell?", she identified, "Debbie and sometimes Marie and some times Jan and Gaye.". Asked, "How many times did you tell the creche workers?", she replied, "About [pause] Lots of times." (p20). Asked to describes the words used in telling Lara responded, "Peter is doing secret touching to us. Could you please help us to stop him. And so we went in and lie, and they tried to help us stop him, but he just kept on pretending not to listen and he kept on doing it.".

Comment: The question arises as to why the interviewer failed to determine any detail of this scenario. No effort was made to determine the context in which Lara spoke to Bart (e.g., where she was standing what Bart was doing or whether Ellis was aware of this, given that young children's whispers often are audible to others in the vicinity). Neither was any effort made to ascertain how Ellis had reacted to their departure, given that he allegedly is standing in the toilet area with his pants around his ankles (p12, see 2.1.8 above). No mention was made of the earlier statement (p10 see 2.1.4 above) that Marie had been alerted by Lara alone and had come to see, which appeared to conflict with the current description and what was said to be told to an apparent array of teachers (p21). It is also unlikely that a child would remember with any precision words allegedly used at least two years previously, so that specific restatements such as this should be viewed with some caution.

2.6 Again returning to the allegation of alleged indecent touching:

2.6.1 After ascertaining the child's knowledge of the relative location and functions of the clitoris and vagina (pp24-25) the interviewer probed directly, using a number of multiple choice questions, where Ellis' hand had gone with respect to her vagina. Lara indicated [twice] that his hand did not go near her vagina, nor inside that part of her body (p25). Her response to a leading question, "...So did, The hand went on the clitoris?", was "Yes." (Note: Given the sensitivity of the clitoris to indirect touching on even the outer labia, actual touching of the clitoris, compared say with stroking of the outer labia, might well make for a difficult discrimination for a child, so that the actual detail of any alleged touching has to be carefully considered in the writer's opinion. The interviewer does not obtain any particular detail).

2.7 Attempt to ascertain where 'secret touching' came from:

2.7.1 In response to specific questions (p26), Lara explained that Peter Ellis used the term secret touching and that, "Um, he calls it secret touching just before he's going to do it.", asked what he says, she replied, "He says um that he's going to do some secret touching. We don't know what secret touching is and so we just follow him." (Note: Clearly this could be true for the first occasion only, thereafter one might expect the children to not follow when this invitation was given.).

2.7.2 Asked if she had heard the term anywhere else, she said at home (p26) and answered "No." when asked if anywhere else. She changed this to add "And at other creches just tell us.. [No record on transcript, but possibly].. about it too." She said her parents had told her at home, and in response to a specific question alleged Peter had first told her it was called that.

Comment: No effort was made establish the circumstances in which Ellis talked about 'secret touching', whether it was out in the creche proper or once children were in the toilet area. Nor was the circumstances of the children following him when he told them it was to happen. Without some sort of context, the information makes little sense. Similarly, there was no evident attempt to determine just what her parents had told Lara and the circumstances of their telling her, or of the circumstances in which she was told at 'other creches' and whether this preceded or post-dated the allegations, all of which could be important given the potential for contamination of evidence and/or the possible effect on memory source monitoring, given the alleged events occurred at least two years previously.

 

3.0 Conclusion:

Lara began the interview expressing some minor concerns re Ellis' behaviour and then alleged that he had made her put his flaccid penis in her mouth and those of other children on many occasions and many times a day. She referred to "drinking games" (WO) but made no allegation concerning urination or ejaculation in her mouth, nor was this explored by the interviewer. At no time was any clear information sought or obtained on the context of this alleged behaviour, of the disposition of the observing or participant children, or of how the penis got into their mouths. The location was specified as the 'toilet area' as distinct from a toilet cubicle, which must increase the 'public' nature of the activities. The child alleged that specific children were involved and identified four creche workers who had been told, including one (Marie) whom she said had come and seen what was happening and spoken to Ellis about his behaviour. Lara claimed that the behaviour continued despite this.

What this requires, if true, is Ellis taking enormous risks of detection, continuing after detection, and a conspiracy of silence by a number of the staff concerning his activities.

In response to specific questioning, allegations also were made of touching the children's genital and anal regions in the toilets and 'outside the gate', and of hitting and kicking the children. Again, little detail of the circumstances of these allegations was obtained, as was any clear information on whether these were separate from or concurrent with the alleged penile-oral activities. The tern 'secret touching' seems to apply to both genital and non-genital touching (e.g. tickling).

In giving detail, Lara demonstrated unexpectedly sophisticated anatomical terminology, using terms such as clitoris, identified by her as distinct from vagina, and anus, which the writer has not heard used even by much older children in evidential interviews. This bespeaks of an unusual degree of knowledge and some education in these matters, and raises the question of how this might have affected her testimony. It is evident that there has been discussion with, and possibly questioning by her parents, which raises concerns about possible contamination.

There are few indications of any emotional reactions in this interview. Lara speaks quietly much of the time, and she occasionally whispers when asked for detail. Much of the information is presented in a matter-of-fact way.

 

4.0 Interview 92/594 0610.92

4.1 Revisiting allegation of insertion of penis in children's mouths:

4.1.1 As with the first interview, this began with Lara stating some general complaints of a minor nature about Ellis before reiterating a version of her initial allegations, "Um. Well he made children put his penis in their mouths and he made them do mean things to each other, and they tickled children, and he tickled children and they didn't like it."(p7). The tickling was described occurring between children, in the creche area and as being on tummies and on legs (by knees)(pp7-8). (Note: This is different from the initial allegations (Interview 92/96) in that this child-child activity was not previously mentioned nor was the 'secret touching' referred to on the present occasion).

4.1.2 Leading into the topic of the genital-oral contact, the interviewer asked where it happened. This time Lara responded, "In the toilets." (Note: In interview 92/ 96 she had specified "the area where the toilets were" (Transcript p11).

4.1.3 The interviewer leads as follows (p9), "He got the kids to put his penis.."; "In their mouths..", and asked "...Who was in the toilets when that happened?" Lara responded, "Um, most.of the children.". (Note: In interview 92/96 she had named two (Bart and Mary, pH) and then three (Kari, Mary and Bart, p21) as present).

4.1.4 Now asked (p9) who knew what he was doing Lara responded, "Gaye.", asked how she knew, Lara replied, "Because when he was doing that she peeped round the door"; "She saw him doing it.". Challenged, she said she had seen Gaye doing this. (Note: In interview 92/96 (p10) Lara first maintained she had told Marie, and that Marie had looked and seen, she later (p21) had added Debbie, Jan and Gaye to the list and said she and Bart had told.).

4.1.5 Asked what Gaye did about this, Lara reported as follows, "She um didn't tell any of the other creche workers but when Peter got out of the toilets she said don't do that and Peter said Oh yes I will and then he went back in the toilets with the children and started doing it again."(p10). Asked how she knew Gaye had said anything to Peter, Lara stated, "Um because we were out of the toilets and we heard Gaye, I heard Gaye say it to Peter and Peter took us back to the toilet."(p10). Asked if any of the other creche workers knew what Peter was doing to children in the toilets, Lara responded "No.". The interviewer noted (p10) a discrepancy between this and what had been said in the preceding interview (92/96) and asked who else Lara had told. She named Debbie (p10) and was asked if she had told any of the other creche teachers or not, Lara replied'"No because I heard Debbie tell some of the creche workers." (p10).

(Note 1: This is an entirely different description of the creche worker-Ellis interactions and subsequent events from that given by Lara in Interview 92/96, p10, pp21-22.

Note 2: In interview 92/96, Lara stated she had told other workers (p21), naming Gaye, Marie, Jan and Debbie.

Note 3: At the end of this interview (92/594, p20), Lara is asked again if the person who saw was Gaye, she affirmed this. She was reminded that last time she had said Marie, and said she could not remember. The interviewer suggested that Lara is now more sure it was Gaye, to which Lara agreed).

4.1.6 Probing with suggestive and direct questions the interviewer attempted to identify other creche staff whom Lara had told (pp 11-12). Lara identified Marie as one. Asked what she had told Marie, she replied' "I said that I saw Gaye peeping around the door and that Gaye knew what was happening to her children.". (Note: This exchange is completely different from that referred to in interview 92/96 (p10). Also, the reported conversation took place over two years previously and Lara had just demonstrated that she could not accurately recall what she had said in an interview only seven months previously).

4.1.7 Asked specifically about Andrew (p12), another creche worker, Lara said, "Well, I can't remember Andrew.", "Do you remember what he looks like?", "No.", "So how do you know he was a teacher then?", "Because mummy telled me and then I remembered a wee bit of him but I couldn't, couldn't remember all about him." (Note: This latter statement raises issues of possible contamination from parental sources. The question has to be asked, just what else has her mother told her?).

4.1.8 Later (p13) the question of Gaye seeing the alleged event is raised in specific questioning, the interviewer checking Lara's certainty, to which Lara replied, "Um, I'm very sure."; "Hmm Hm. What makes you very sure about that?", "Because I just think I can remember her peeping.".

Comment: There are many differences and discrepancies between the information given in the present interview and that in 92/96. Lara appears fairly certain of her revised statement of who she recalls telling, adding conversational and action detail that appears to validate her claim, but which increases the divergence between the two separate reports. It is important to contrast the two different statements because although she is reporting events alleged to have occurred at least two to two and a half years previously, in the process she demonstrates that her memory for what she has said only seven months prior is not particularly good, raising questions about the effect of an even longer delay on the accuracy of her memory.

There is some concern over the assistance she claims her mother has given her in remembering about 'people involved in the creche. It raises the question of what other assistance and questioning has occurred.

As in the first interview, Lara described events with no evident emotion or distress.

4.2 Revisiting 'secret touching outside the gate.

4.2.1 The interviewer led the child into the topic with a direct reminder of this allegation(p14). Asked where outside the gate, Lara said it was just near the gate, on the footpath, just outside the gate near the creche. It transpired that the 'secret touching' involved tickling "All over their body." (p14). The interviewer specifically told Lara that 'secret touching' was different from tickling and asked whether what was done here was the one or the other. "He did tickling." (Note: In interview 92/96, Lara had difficulty with this discrimination).

4.3 Allegations involving 'secret touching' in the building with escalators:

4.3.1 The interviewer asked a series of specific questions re visits outside the creche. Lara specifically stated (p15) that Peter did not take the children to parks (Note: This contrasts with claims by other children interviewed (e.g., Eli Laurel, 92/163) that Ellis had taken them to the park). Asked where Peter did take her, she replied, "Um down um in the big room with lots of escalators. My mummy thinks that it could have been the City Council or something.". (Note: This raises the question of how much else Lara's mother had been helping her to remember, adding to concerns about potential contamination of memory.) Asked what happened there, Lara alleged, "He did the secret touching." (Note: Given the earlier confusions between tickling and secret touching, one might have anticipated some attempt at clarification).

4.3.2 Apparently, from Lara's description, Ellis was alone when this occurred (p16), and was accompanied by children from both ends of the creche, all had walked there. (Note: Presumably this meant some children present who were aged under four years of age). The touching allegedly occurred, "Um, just in the middle of the room. (p17)", with "Yes, there was um lots of people just working at their desks."; "Where they worked at the City Council." (p17). (Note 1: These people were not identified as present originally (p16), but now apparently are present. Note 2: The location appears to have become more definitely the City Council, which supports concern about contamination of memory by suggestion.).

4.3.3 The location of the alleged 'secret touching now was explored with Lara. (pp17-18). She immediately redefined it as 'tickling', locating it on the tummy, legs [a doll is produced to assist], chest (p17) and (p18) neck [not reported in transcript]. At this point (p18) the interviewer specifically suggested to Lara that she show on the doll where Peter did 'secret touching'. Lara pointed to the front an the back of the doll and for back is told by the interviewer, "And I know that your name for those are Bottom, or is it bum?"(p18), Lara responded "Bottom.". "Bottom. And this one's called the..", "Vagina." The interviewer then asked, "Vagina, Ok. Right, so when he did secret touching on your vagina and your bum, whereabouts were you?", "Um, in the City Council.".

Comment: Here one can see an allegation of indecent assault apparently being generated by the association of a non-sexual allegation (tickling) in an identified setting with exposure to specific questions about sexually-related body parts and a further question that specifically states that sexual touching occurred and then asks where that happened. In this way an allegation and a memory may be created. Certainly, in the writer's opinion, this type of questioning can do no more than confound an already confused situation with the potential for misleading and possibly false memories being generated. Further, this child has already previously demonstrated in this and the previous (92/96) interview that she confuses tickling and 'secret touching', which should have added to the caution of the interviewer in introducing suggestive questions

The question needs to be asked as to whether either the tickling or the alleged indecent assault would have gone unreported had it occurred, as Lara claimed (p17) in front of lots of people sitting at their desks.

4.4 Naming additional children allegedly involved in 'secret touching':

4.4.1 Asked to name other children present, Lara identified Brian, Colin Kauri, Bart, Zelda and Kari (Note 1: Brian was identified as a family friend whom Lara had visited in their farm. Note 2: Colin Kauri was named previously only in association with face-painting. Note 3: Previously, of these children, Lara had only named Bart and Kari as being involved).

 

5.0 Conclusions:

This second interview, like the first, began with relatively minor, non-abusive complaints about Ellis. Of the substantive sexual abuse allegations made in interview 92/ 96, only that relating to penile-oral contact was spontaneously repeated. Subsequently, quite different detail was given concerning this allegation, much of it conflicting with that in the initial allegation, including specific place, children involved, and staff informed and what was said. These differences and discrepancies between the two interviews are significant and problematic, since they raise the question of the validity of the initial allegation and the stability of Lara's memory, given that the previous interview was only seven months before and the alleged remembered events occurred over two years previously. They also raise the importance of understanding the content of a sequence of interviews, where more than one has been undertaken, since selective viewing or analysis would not enable an awareness of discrepancies or differences.

There were no indications of emotional or distressed behaviour during the statement of these allegations.

 

6.0 Interview 92/694 09.12.92

6.1 Former Creche children whom Lara said were at her school:

6.1.1 In response to a direct question (Transcript p3), Lara named five former creche children at her school (Nancy, Prue, Bart, Eli, and Fred). (Note: No detail of her contact with these children was obtained. The possibility of contact, sharing of stories, and possible contamination cannot be ruled out.).

6.2 Allegation of penis-mouth contact at the building with escalators:

6.2.1 As with the two previous interviews, Lara began (pp4-5) by relating some minor non-sexual (but different) complaints about Ellis' conduct. Invited to speak about some mean things that Peter Ellis did, Lara repeats that it included being made to put his penis in 'our' mouth (p6). This was identified as 'secret touching'. Told by the interviewer that she had, in the preceding interview, told her about secret touching happening somewhere else, Lara located it in a room with "lots of escalators", "And it had carpet on the floor and it had some desks in it."(p6). (Note: This appears to be the building identified as the City Council in interview 92/ 594, pp16-18)

6.2.2 Asked who was present (p6), Lara named Peter, Fred, Eli, and Bart. (Note 1: The children had been among those named a little earlier (p3) as being at her school. Note 2: In interview 92/594, no children were named, and it was said then that those present came from the Womble and [presumably) Big ends of the Creche (p16)).

6.2.3 Asked "Were there any other big people there?", Lara said, "No.". (Note: In interview 92/594 she had said "There were lots of people working at their desks.")

6.2.4 Asked what sort of secret touching occurred in this room, Lara stated (p7), "Oh, he made us put his penis in his mouth and he made us run around the room and then he came back and touched us.", and, later, "Well he made us run round the room and then he ran after us touching us." (Note: This is an entirely new allegation).

6.2.5 A question of how many times she went there [presumably to the building with the escalators], Lara replied "Um, just once." (p7).

6.2.6 Clarification was sought (p8) about the 'touching', which Lara then described as tickling on the tummy. (Note: Lara in previous interviews has not made clear discriminations of secret touching and tickling).

6.2.7 The interviewer asked if Lara was touched anywhere else when running around the room and responded "No." (p8) (Note: In interview 92/594, p18, Lara had been led to allege touching on the vagina and bottom. This allegation is not repeated at this time).

6.2.8 In a series of leading question the interviewer has Lara agree that the penis in the mouth happened in "that room" and in the creche toilets, "So it happened in two different places.."(p8). (Note: By using leading questions the interviewer denied an Opportunity to check her assumption or to check on the consistency of Lara's allegation).

6.2.9 The suggestive questioning continued (pp8-9) in respect of other locations, "...So tell me, um has Peter taken you anywhere else before and done secret touching or not?" (p8). Lara answered (p9), "No.", "When Peter took you to a place, took you somewhere else and did secret touching"..."have there ever been other people there or not?", Lara answered, "Just me and Peter and other children.". (Note: This is not consistent with 92/594, p17)

6.2.10 The interviewer then applies social influence, "And other children, right. Cos l heard, ah, I heard there might have been other people there one time, is that right?" In response, Lara changed her statement to, "Um, yep, yeah." (p9).

6.2.11 When challenged (p9) about the change in evidence, Lara amended her detail, "Well there were three rooms and one..";"..Two of them had no people in them."; "And then except me and Peter and other children."; "And then there's another one that did have staff in it."; "Um like the staff that work on the computers.". (Note: This description bears no relation to that offered in 92/594, p17).

6.2.12 The interviewer asks a series of suggestive questions (p10) about these people, none of whom are apparently involved in 'secret touching'. (Note: The interviewer does not ascertain whether, as in 92/594, these people witnessed anything of a sexual nature).

6.2.13 The interviewer asked (p10) directly whether Peter knows any other people who do secret touching. The answer was assumed to be 'No'.

6.2.14 In response to further questioning (pp10-12), Lara indicated that after the alleged event the children walked back to the creche where she told Debbie, Gaye, and Marie, "Because I didn't want to keep all that secret touching a secret.", and that other children had told, "Because I saw them." (p11). Lara (p12) named Fred, Eli, and .Bart. (Note: None of the other children whose interviews the writer has examined have made a similar allegation).

Comment: The interviewer resorted often to closed, suggestive and/or leading questions when trying to get detail. The allegations made on the present occasion are quite different in major detail from those made two months previously (92/594), with increased elaboration in the face of challenge by the interviewer. Lara's responsiveness to suggestion points to suggestibility, which, along with considerable inconsistency within and across interviews, raises important questions about the reliability of her statements.

No emotional changes when making allegations of a serious nature compared with other types of allegation.

6.3 Others being told:

6.3.1 In response to direct questioning (p13), Lara agreed that she had been telling her mother and Hildegard [counsellor?] about what the interviewer called 'this stuff' (p13). She added in response to a question about when at home with, "I um tell mummy and daddy about the things." (p13). (Note: This raises again the question of contamination of the child's narrative by other questioning. The forms of question, the patterns of adult attention, and the circumstances may all have a potentially contaminating effect on reporting and memory.).

6.4 Allegation of 'secret touching' at Peter's friend's house:

6.4.1 Using social influence the interviewer introduced the possibility of other places and people being involved in 'secret touching', "Um and I heard that there were some other people somewhere doing some secret touching with someone."(p14)., Lara replied, "Yes.". Later (p15) the interviewer inquired, "When the other people were doing.."; "...secret touches to people, who did they do it to?", Lara named Ken, Prue, Bart, Eli, and Fred (Note: The latter three had been named previously in this interview in respect of the "room" allegation).

6.4.2 "Yeah. And who were the people doing the secret touching?", "Um, I don't know their names, but there were three men."; "Right, so who took you to the three men, how did you get there?" (Note: At this stage it had not been established just where the three men had been. Given that other children had alleged strangers doing things at or near the creche, it is odd that the location was not ascertained before this suggestive question was asked.). The answer was, "Um. We walked with Peter." (p15).

6.4.3 Specific questions (p16) produced statements to the effect that Lara did not know the men's names or what Peter called them, that Peter had said they were going to see the three men, and that she had seen them once only. Asked what they did (p16), Lara said they had hit them on their backs with their hands and that they made the children put their [the men's] penises in their [the children's] mouths. The penises got there because the men unzipped their trousers (p17)

6.4.3 Asked to narrate events (p17), Lara said they were in the room with the men and could not get out, despite trying to, "And then I heard someone say that Junintelligible]..Well I heard them say, I know what we're going to do, lets do some secret touching.". (Note 1: This detail is remembered after almost three years, and the statement attributed to the men is rather child-like i n content. Note 2 There is no indication from Lara's demeanour that what is being related here was traumatic, when recall of an inability to escape from a frightening situation might reasonably be expected to produce some sign of distress from a child.)

Comment: The interviewer made no attempt at this time to examine the child's state of mind or emotion at the time of the alleged events. Lara was relating alleged events which one might reasonably expect to be traumatic, but no indication that they were so was evident in her demeanour or behaviour.

6.4.4 In response to specific questioning Lara said (p18) that this happened to her twice and in response to a multiple-choice question about which men did it to her, selected "Um it was the same person". In response to a further question, "Hmm. So how many men have done it to you?" Lara gave the conflicting response, "Just two." (Note: She may have been including her earlier allegation re Peter Ellis, but the interviewer made no attempt to clarify the discrepancy).

6.4.5 Lara alleged Peter was doing 'secret touching' to Ken. When asked who she had told, she indicated her parents. (Note: The concern about possible contamination again arises.). Lara is led to agree that she had not told her parents when she was little (p18), she said this was, "Because I was scared." (p19).

6.5 Allegation of penile-vulval contact by the men:

6.5.1 The interviewer directly asked "Ok. And did the men, the men who did the secret touching, did they put the penis..","...in the kids' mouths, in your mouth?"(p19), Lara answered (p20) in the affirmative. "Did the men's penis go anywhere else on your body or not?", was answered "No." (p20). A body parts diagram was produced and Lara indicated with crosses, and some prompting suggestions from the interviewer, touching on the mouth and back (p20).

6.5.2 Lara then waved the pen near the groin area, to which the interviewer suggestively commented "...and what's that there? What are you going to do? Is that something is that more touching or you're just going to colour in? "What's that part called?" (p20). Lara responded, "Vulva." (Note: Once again, as in earlier interviews, Lara used anatomical terms which evidences a knowledge uncommon, in the writer's experience, for children of this age.). This response was followed by a suggestive question, "The vulva, right. Who touched your vulva?", Lara responded, "The men.", "What did the men touch with?", "Their penises.(p20) " (Note: In response to a question posed minutes before, Lara had said that the men's penises had not gone anywhere else on her body (see 6.5.1 above). Asked what that made her vulva feel like she said "Ah, I can't remember."(p21).

Comment: The allegation of contact between penis and vulva arose in the context of the presence of a body diagram and in the presence of suggestive questioning. Rawls (1996) found that use of body diagrams and closed (potentially suggestive) questions was associated with a high rate (24%) of false allegation of abuse. That combination here also is likely to be potentially problematic in terms of production of reliable evidence.

It was noted that the allegation was not accompanied by any change in emotion or demeanour.

6.5.3 Asked, "Hmm. Whereabouts were your clothes when the men did.?", Lara said, "On our body." When asked "So how did their penis touch your vulva?' (p21), she amended her response to, "In our, ah, in my clothes were, trousers were down here." to meet the challenge.

6.5.4 In response to direct questions, Lara stated that Peter was touching the other child's secret and private parts (Note: She did not include herself here.), and described the man who touched her vulva with his penis as, "Um the man with the grt ey?]..With um black hair." (p21) (Note: Possible change in description). and asked how many times that happened, said, "Four.".

6.5.5 The interviewer led Lara through a series of suggestive detail questions (pp22-23), that indicated that the men had pulled her pants down (p22), that the penis stayed still on the vulva (p22), and that she was standing up (p23) Asked how it happened when the penis touched the vulva, Lara said the men had unzipped their jeans, taken and their penis out. A suggestive multiple-choice question was asked about their position, Lara chose "Standing up." from the options and affirmed that she too was standing up.

6.5.6 The interviewer challenged the above statement, "Right. Cos do you know what I think, because if a big man stands up then the penis wouldn't be able to touch your vulva because you'd be much littler. So how did the penis touch?"(p23). In response, Lara amended her answer, "Um. Well, they were standing up like this and then they went like that, squatted down." (Note 1: If they squatted, it is uncertain from relative body angles and the need to retain balance, whether a penis could still touch a child's vulva with ease. Note 2: There have been other occasions on which Lara amended her story when challenged).

6.5.7 Asked (p24) what the man's penis looked like, Lara replied matter-of-factly, "Just like a man's penis.". Suggestive questions established that the penis was flaccid (Note: Even squatting, a flaccid penis would not be easily brought into contact with a standing child's vulva).

6.5.8 Lara was willing (p24) to speculate that Gaye was at creche in her office and that Debbie was with all of the other creche workers at creche.

6.5.9 Lara was directly asked (p25) whose vulva Peter touched. She now alleged that Peter had touched her vulva with his penis (Note: Earlier (see 6.5.4 above) Lara had said only the man with the black hair, and had not indicated Peter in respect of herself when asked what he was doing at that time.)

6.5.10 Asked to describe the room (p27), Lara said it contained some chairs and a book case. Asked (p28) about the books she said they were about parties, and men, and road works (Note: The issue of speculation arises, given that she was four years old, may not have been able to read, and even so gives no indication that she took the books from the shelves.). In response to specific questions Lara went on to describe pictures on the walls of hills and parks (Note: Would a frightened four year old in a strange house take in this detail?).

6.5.11 Volunteering to draw a picture of the house (pp28-29), Lara described a two-storey house. Further questioning about the house (p30) produced a description of a big hallway with pictures on the walls of hills, parks and road works (Note: The latter topic also was associate with the books).

6.5.12 The children were taken into the men's bedroom(p31), they all slept in the same bed [Lara is playing with a toy bed and dolls at this time]. The children were told to sit on the bed and the men did secret touching (p31), the children having been made to take their clothes off. The 'secret touching' in the bedroom transpired to involve tickling (pp32-33). In response to a question about the other secret touching (p33), Lara alleged it happened in the hallway ( Note: Earlier it was in a room, see 6.4 and 6.5 above). The location of events subsequently (pp33-34) is the confusingly described as in the bedroom, with children waiting in the hallway and taken to the bedroom one by one.

 

7.0 Conclusion:

This interview included a number of revised and new allegations of abuse. The reports in it of previously made allegations are different and divergent in important ways from the allegations as initially made and there are also internal inconsistencies which emerge as the questioning proceeds. A proportion of these differences result from suggestive and/or direct questioning. Such questioning was at times associated with the use of dolls or body parts diagrams, which may themselves have a suggestive function under some circumstances.

There is evidence that Lara was willing to speculate, giving answers to questions to which she could not know the answer. The situation here may be that children may feel that, because an adult is asking a question, they have to provided some sort of answer in order to satisfy the adult. The result is speculation. One can only tell a child is speculating when this is obvious, but there may be many occasions on which this is occurring undetected.

When challenged from time to time, Lara responded by amending her statements, at times reversing just previously stated reports. This raises problematic issues, because it evidences a willingness to change reports to fit the logic of the challenge, leaving the question as to just what are the facts.

Lara demonstrates a developmentally unusual level of anatomical knowledge in respect of genital and anal areas. This suggests a level of education in these matters. Lara also indicates education at home and at creche in respect of 'secret touching'. The impact of this education on Lara's allegations is not known, but has to be considered as a possible source of contamination.

There also are potential sources of external contamination from parental questioning and / or discussion, from contacts with other former creche children whom Lara identified as attending her school, and from the process of counselling (if indeed Hildegard is a counsellor).

The emotional and behavioural patterns through the questioning provided little indication of any distress or difficulty in articulating reports of the alleged events, although it is noted that Lara very occasionally whispers when talking about some matters.

 

8.0 Overall Conclusions:

Lara made a number of serious allegations in the course of these three interviews. In the context of the formal interviews (that is not considering any potential contamination from external sources of influence). Lara volunteered allegations of penile-oral contact. It is notable that additional detail of these, and revelation of other allegations, emerged in the process of questioning which often involved suggestive, direct, and / or leading questions to produce critical detail. This interviewing approach appears, to a significant degree, to have contributed to the considerable inconsistency in Lara's various reports of alleged events, both within interviews and between interviews. Other factors affecting consistency may include problems i n memory for what had already been said from interview to interview or within interviews, and external contamination of memory (e.g., possibly through counselling or parental discussion), and the relating of alleged events which, if they had occurred, did so more than two to two and a half years previously. It is worthy of note that the inconsistencies essentially become evident only through tracking the content of the allegations across the whole series of interviews.

There are many instances in which the interviewer failed to examine aspects of the allegations in any depth, so that important contextual and behavioural issues remain unexplored. Further, the occasional allegation of physical abuse, primarily hitting and kicking, was essentially ignored, despite the fact that one might expect these types of act to add considerably to the trauma and aversiveness of the alleged sexual abuse.

There are indications that there were a number of potential sources of external contamination, including parental questioning and/or discussion of allegations, including assistance in remembering creche staff and identifying location of an alleged event, discussion of some events with a person who may be a counsellor, and contacts with former creche children. These need to be considered because their impact may be on the content and nature of allegations made, influence on memories, and on what is recalled through suggestion and / or rehearsal.

Emotional reactivity and demeanour throughout is relatively stable, with no reliably evident indices of emotional distress in relating what can be viewed as likely to have been traumatic if experienced by a young child.

In sum, it is the writer's opinion that the problematic aspects of this series of interviews raises serious questions about the reliability of the allegations made by Lara Palm