Martin van Beynen gives details of some of the charges against Ellis that got him convicted.
Only about eight weeks later, a 3-year-old attending the Christchurch Civic Creche told his mother he didn’t like creche worker Peter Ellis’ “black penis”.
She was receptive. She was the author of a handbook on child sexual abuse and had recovered memories of being sexually abused herself.
Warning bell one.
A few months before, the counsellor had bought a black puppy from Ellis, who showed the boy how to tell the puppy’s sex.
Which could well explain the comment.
The boy who had sparked the alarm disclosed nothing of interest to specialist Social Welfare Department interviewers.
But anxieties ignited by the “black penis” remark were not going to be dampened down easily. Parents asked their children about Ellis and began swapping notes.
Warning sign two.
Three months later Charlie was back for his second interview in which he talked about an incident in a bath at Ellis’ house.
Charlie said he had been made to eat “poos” and Ellis had forced him to touch his penis. Ellis had also put his penis up his bum and it felt “ticklish”. He had seen other men being cruel to other creche children.
Ellis had dressed up as a witch and a judge and threatened to change him into a frog or send him to jail if he told.
The interview resulted in three charges – inducing an indecent act, indecent assault and sexual violation.
During an interview the next day, Charlie said children had been put down a trapdoor into a maze where Ellis’ friends Spikehead, Stupidhead and Boulderhead were present. A sharp stick had been put up his backside and Ellis’ mother had given him a poisonous drink.
There was more abominable material to come. On August 6, 1992 he told the specialist interviewer in a fourth interview of an incident at Ellis’ house where children had been made to stand naked in a circle drawn on the floor.
Adults stood on the outside of the circle playing guitars and children were made to kick each other while Ellis took photographs. Some of the guitar-playing adults had slitty eyes and wore white suits and pretended to be cowboys.
The children were kicked “in the balls” and the kneecaps, he said.
He claimed the adults present included three other three creche workers, Gaye (Davidson, the creche supervisor), Marie (Keys) and Jan (Buckingham).
After the circle ritual, the children had been put in ovens and the adults present had pretended to eat them.
A man had put a needle in his penis and the three women creche workers had “hurt penises and vaginas” too.
When he was asked why he had not disclosed the incident in earlier interviews, he said, “oh, I just remembered today”.
By the time Charlie was interviewed again on October 1, the creche had closed. At this fifth and last interview he alleged children were hung up in cages at the creche and had burning paper and sticks put up their backsides.
Weird how none of the parents ever noticed the cages.
Three charges based on the evidence of two young sisters were dropped during the trial.
The older sister, who had turned 7 by the time of the trial, told the court her interviewer “taught me what Peter did”.
The younger sister, only 4, said her claim Ellis had urinated on her had not happened.
Another flashing warning sign.
As Lynley Hood pointed out in her exhaustive book on the creche, A City Possessed, five of the parents of the seven children worked in the sex abuse field.
Massive massive flashing warning sign.
One of the strongest planks of the appeal was the seven children, whose evidence the jury accepted, had named 21 other child victims – either as observers or participants. Yet none of those 21 had confirmed the allegations.
A good point.
One of the complainants, now 11 and probably the most credible of the child witnesses, had learned of Ellis’ appeal from her mother. The girl then confessed she had lied about Ellis. She had given the answers she thought her mother had wanted and a “wee story” just got bigger.
Another warning bell.
Over the last decade, Psychology Professor Harlene Hayne, of Otago University, has been doing detailed research into the children’s interviews.
With the way cleared this week for Ellis to have his appeal heard in the Supreme Court, her conclusions will be used in what will surely be Ellis’ last attempt to show the abuse at the Christchurch creche never happened.
Professor Hayne is pretty well respected. She is not just a psychology professor, but also the Otago Vice-Chancellor. She is a Fellow of the American Psychological Society and the Royal Society of NZ. Her work has been cited internationally.
But time is running out. He is in the last stages of terminal bladder cancer and his supporters hope the allegations can finally be put to rest.
A hard core of parents, former complainants and police will find the continued doubts about the case offensive.
Innocent until the day I die, Ellis said. That day is coming sooner than anyone expected.
I’m hopeful but not optimistic about the Supreme Court. An appellate is restricted in what it can do. It can’t just substitute its opinion. It has to find grounds for a miscarriage which haven’t already been considered. Hopefully they will.