van Beynen on the Ellis case


Ellis worked as a childcare worker at the Christchurch Civic Creche. In 1991, an allegation by one of his charges eventually escalated into a police investigation in which about 120 children were interviewed by specialist Social Welfare Department interviewers. About 40 children reported some form of abuse, some of it mundane, some of it fantastical and bizarre, featuring infanticide and cannibalism. …

As a youngish court reporter, I saw the videos, listened to the children in court and heard all the evidence. My view was the accounts emerging from the interviews of the children were totally unreliable. It just seemed common sense.
The first problem was the lead-up to the interviews. Some of the parents were networking and had already asked their children leading questions before their specialist interviews. Some children had talked to each other.
The social welfare interviews were professional enough for the time but the children were hardly ever challenged, no matter how fanciful their answers. If the answers were inconsistent or incoherent, then they would be asked again in more elaborate form until an acceptable answer was elicited.
In many interviews it was not so much about believing the children but believing the children only when an implausible answer became more plausible. If they did not disclose or were unclear, they were brought back for more interviews. The children, most between 5 and 8, were recalling events from two or three years earlier. 
Interviewers fed them tidied-up summaries of their most plausible stories and then told them to continue. As the interviews continued, allegations became more bizarre, as though the children believed they had to perform better to satisfy the adults. Some almost begged for the interviews to end.
The quality of evidence rendered the convictions against not only unsafe but farcical.

Not just unsafe, but farcical. And that is from someone who sat through the evidence.

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