The Christchurch Civic Creche Case

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Sunday Star Times
August 3 2003

Ellis: Child Molester or witchhunt victim?
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The Christchurch Civic Creche case began in November 1991 with the ambiguous comment of a three-year-old boy. He was.interviewed by CYFS and disclosed nothing.

But, like a careless match tossed into the tinder-dry landscape of a Canterbury summer, his comment sparked an inferno. Meetings were held, support groups were established, counselling was provided. Sex abuse experts warned parents their children's bed wetting, tantrums and sleep disturbances could be signs of sexual abuse. Anxious parents questioned their children.

The kids said they liked the creche, they liked the staff. Experts warned parents that abused children could be threatened into silence; they had to disclose and be treated or they may never recover. Anxious parents read books to their children about secret (or yukky, or bad) touching. They told them it was safe to tell. They asked them about Peter Ellis, bottoms, poos, wees, vaginas and penises.

Finally, after two months of parental interrogation, the kids started talking dirty. In the course of the investigation, more than 100 children were interviewed by CYFS, some as many as six times. On the basis of those interviews, creche worker Peter Ellis and four of his women colleagues were arrested on a total of 60 charges of sexual offending against 20 children.

The women were discharged pre-trial. Peter Ellis was convicted on 16 counts of abusing seven children. There was no physical evidence, there were no adult eye witnesses. He was convicted solely on the testimony of seven young children.

Later, the oldest and most credible of the child witnesses retracted her allegations. She said she had lied about indecent touching and forced contact with Ellis’ penis because she thought that was what her mother and the interviewer wanted her to say.

The six remaining children (now young adults) that Ellis was convicted of abusing recorded a total of 22 interviews. Of those 22 videotapes, the jury viewed 12 in full. Excerpts from a thirteenth videotape were also played. The other nine videotapes recorded by those children were not played to the jury at all.

Here are unedited excerpts from transcript of some of the videotapes recorded with those key complainant children. Some of these videotapes were seen by the jury, some were not. For legal reasons, children’s names and other identifying details have been changed or deleted.

In B’s first interview, the interviewer took care to ensure the boy was relaxed and comfortable. She made him promise to tell the truth. She gave him every opportunity to indicate whether he had been abused by Peter Ellis and, if so, in what way. She also gave him every opportunity to indicate whether other adults and children were involved

All B could come up with was a memory of Ellis cleaning him up on the creche changing table. The contrast between that story and the bizarre allegations in his later interviews (recorded after months of parental questioning and sexual abuse therapy) is extraordinary.

But because the jury had no transcript of B’s first interview and saw only two excerpts of the videotape, the potential impact of that contrast was much reduced.