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Government must re-open Peter Ellis case

Government must re-open Peter Ellis case

The next Government must give a high priority to re-opening the Peter Ellis case, says Ellis researcher Ross Francis. Ellis was convicted in 1993 of sexually abusing several children whilst employed at the Christchurch Civic Creche. After twice refusing parole, he was released from prison in February 2000.

Following two failed appeals, the then Minister of Justice, Phil Goff, established a Ministerial inquiry in March 2000. Goff asserted that it was "extremely rare" to see a further inquiry once a case had been through the courts. He claimed that the Court of Appeal had identified matters that "might be more appropriately addressed by an inquiry of this kind". The appeals court had indeed identified matters that were beyond its scope, such as the expert opinion evidence. But it had encouraged the setting up of a wide-ranging Commission of Inquiry. Cabinet, however, rejected the Court's advice and opted for an inquiry that Goff said would be "speedier and much less of a burden on the taxpayer". [1] The Inquiry expended a fraction of its budget and cost less than $150,000. In comparison, the Commission of Inquiry into Police Conduct, which concluded in 2007, cost $4.8 million.

National MP Richard Worth wants the case and other possible miscarriages of justice to be reviewed by an independent body. During the term of the current Parliament, he proposed a private Members Bill which would have seen a Criminal Cases Review Tribunal established. The Government, citing the potential cost of financing such a body, refused to adopt the Bill. Those in favour of a review of the Ellis case include Shadow Attorney-General Chris Finlayson, ACT leader Rodney Hide, and retired judge Sir Thomas Thorp. Earlier this year Thorp indicated that Ellis may have suffered a miscarriage of justice. He said that this writer's research findings, published last year, "must add to concerns expressed previously that [the case] may have gone awry" [2] In 1999, Thorp reviewed the case on behalf of the Justice Ministry. He identified serious flaws in the prosecution case and hinted that a pardon might need to be considered once Ellis's legal options had been exhausted. The Ministry refuses to consider a pardon.

A wide-ranging inquiry would be expected to investigate many key issues, including:

• the rationale behind the decision to formally interview at least 118 young children;

• the motivation of parents who questioned their children about possible abuse before seeking lump sum payments from ACC;

• the context for the complainants' allegations;

• the dubious claims of the prosecution's expert witness and their likely effect;

• the likely effect of the trial judge's advice that jurors could give weight to allegations from complainants who had exhibited specific behaviours which "a lot of children of the same age group who have been sexually abused have also shown";

• the admission by the oldest conviction child that she lied during her evidential interviews and at trial;

• the sanitising of charges on which Ellis was tried and convicted;

• the effect of legislative changes in 1989 regarding the prosecution of sexual offences against children;

• the ethics of asking young children explicit sex-related questions;

• the impartiality and conduct of those tasked with investigating and reviewing the case;

• the expert opinion evidence of Drs Michael Lamb and Barry Parsonson and Professor Maggie Bruck, which remains untested and which raises doubts as to whether any children were sexually abused;

• recent research by Professor Harlene Hayne showing that the complainants' formal interviews were poor and were not substantially better than those employed in a notorious US case of alleged child sexual abuse;

• the quality of advice from the Ministry of Justice, which has consistently opposed a wide-ranging inquiry.


[1] Hon. Phil Goff, Press release, 10 March 2000.

[2] New Zealand Herald, 12 January 2008

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