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01Oct01e Ellis case 2

Sunday Star Times September 30 2001 page1

Book sparks call to pardon Ellis

Donna Chishoim

AN AUTHOR who has spent seven years researching the Peter Ellis case has called for the government to pardon Ellis and set up a commission of inquiry into the criminal justice system.

Lynley Hood's long-awaited book A City Possessed, on the Christchurch Civic Creche case which saw Ellis sentenced to 10 years' jail in 1993 for sexually abusing seven children, concludes he was innocent - the victim of a city's moral panic.

She says her investigation gave her "shock after shock" as she realised the scale of the flaws in the criminal justice system - and the flimsiness of the prosecution case.

Her 600-page book, to be published tomorrow, builds a compelling picture of Ellis' innocence, against a backdrop of a burgeoning sex abuse industry which saw untrained and unsupervised counsellors diagnosing abuse on dubious grounds at the taxpayers' expense and a feminist movement hijacked by the all-men-are-rapists cabal.

Hood also says changes to the Evidence Act in the late 1980s contributed to a judicial environment which made it easier to convict suspected molesters without reliable evidence.

"The main change was the expert evidence provisions that allow all sorts of psychobabble which wouldn't be admissible in any other court case. It should be for the jury to decide who to believe in these cases." The act needs to be changed back, she says - "the only way to stop people being convicted falsely".

The lesson of the creche case "and the one that has been put in the too-hard basket" is that the criminal justice system cannot distinguish between true and false allegations of child sexual abuse, she says. "I'm not saying it doesn't happen. All I'm saying is there is no epidemic and never has been - but there's a huge, largely unrecognised, problem of false allegations that desperately needs to be addressed."

While she hoped her book would lead to a pardon for Ellis, that would not solve the system's problems and a full commission of inquiry was needed into the criminal justice system. "There is every potential for another creche case to happen. The same (sex abuse interview and counselling) methods are being taught and used; the same standards are being used by the police. "If anyone said, 'Look, we've changed as a result of the Ellis case', the immediate implication is 'are you saying you got it wrong?' and they're never going to admit they got it wrong."

But Hood's book suggests at least one person in authority during the creche case is having doubts. Former Children and Young Persons' Service general manager Robin Wilson told Hood social welfare was the first government agency to give women a significant role in management. "I opened the doors to women and got flattened against the wall as they charged through. You look back and think; was it all good?"

A lot of social welfare interviewers were connected with the women's movement and at least one "had her own agenda".

At the time, I didn't see that as a problem. Now I don't know. Looking back, I'm not sure who was running the show. That's why I worry about our role in the creche case. Were our interviewers detached and objective? I know it's been said that if they didn't create the problem they certainly gave it a good stir along.'

Hood also documents the contamination of the children's evidence by parental and social welfare interviews -and the apparent mindset of investigating police.

One mother of a creche child told Hood she asked one officer during the inquiry if Ellis was guilty. "I don't remember whether he said 'in my opinion' or whether he just said it. But he said 'He's guilty. Yes, he's guilty, and we're going to get him."'

Ellis told the Star-Times yesterday he had not seen Hood's book but had nothing to fear from it. The outcome would depend on the public's reaction. He said he was not "bitter and twisted" but the legacy of the creche case was that men were afraid to have contact with children. He was not working other than as "a fulltime housekeeper and gardener" at home with his mother. "I have been living with this for 10 years now and judging by [the latest publicity] I am not going to be tomorrow's fish and chip paper for another six months at least."

Hood, who met Ellis in Paparua prison in 1995, said she found him "very engaging. The impressive thing to me was that there was this guy with the eyeliner poncing around amongst all these shaven headed tattooed thugs and really acting as shop steward for the lads". What convinced the inmates he was innocent? "I haven't asked them."

A ministerial inquiry by former chief justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum earlier this year found Ellis had failed by a "distinct margin" to prove his convictions were unsafe. - - -


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