June 28, 2003
Complainant seeks inquiry into Ellis case
By Dave Courtney
One of the original complainants in the Christchurch Civic Child Care Centre case is among those to sign a petition calling for a Commission of Inquiry into Peter Ellis' convictions.
The complainant, who testified at depositions but not at Ellis' trial, says she first began to doubt Ellis' guilt when she was 13 years old.
Now aged 18, she wants answers as to what actually happened at the creche during her pre-school years.
The first complainant to speak out, Rachel (not her real name) was seven when she was first interviewed about Ellis. She had been away from the creche for more than two years when a psychologist asked her during a video recorded interview if he had ever touched her.
She said "Yes" and was then asked where he had touched her. She replied "On my head". Then the questioning began in earnest.
"They asked where else did Peter touch me and I think I named nearly every ligament I knew the name for," she recalled yesterday.
"Then finally ... I couldn't think of anything else to name (so) I said he touched me on my bottom ...
"They (investigators) kind of got all interested then."
Rachel was interviewed twice more before her mother intervened and demanded to see the recorded sessions.
"Up until seeing the tapes I think they (her parents) believed that Peter was guilty. Mum decided there was nothing there (in the tapes).
"As soon as the other women in the creche got accused it just became a witch trial ... my mum thought `I'm getting my child out of this'."
Rachel's memories of the creche are happy:
"I remember loving being there. I remember playing lots of games Peter was really nice. I got on really well with Peter. He used to cook us pancakes and play follow the leader.
"I could have imagined that if something was wrong I would have sensed that."
Rachel enjoyed the creche so much that after starting school she asked to go back there during her first summer holidays.
By then Ellis had been suspended as the allegations of sexual abuse started to surface.
"I think my mum told me he was on holiday or something like that." After the summer she cut her ties with the creche until the unfolding drama surrounding Ellis dragged her back in.
"I believe they (social workers) phoned my mother a couple of times and said my name had arisen in interviews with other children and that they had said things had happened to me also.
"At first my parents thought they would stay out of it. But they (social workers) phoned quite a few times and then my parents thought maybe they should have a look into it.
"I think they sent someone around one day to note my behavioural patterns. When they came to observe my behaviour I think I argued the entire time with my little sister ... Then they left and got back in contact with my parents and said clearly there is some abuse."
Rachel was sent to see a psychologist. "She seemed really nice. But (I remember) my feeling was it was kind of unsettling. The (office) was this kind of box isolated sort of thing and I didn't understand why they were asking the questions."
Rachel said even when her parents removed her from the inquiry she remained aware of the Ellis case. "I knew there was a bit of talk at home about it but I wasn't focused on it. I never thought I was the centre of it. I knew Peter had been arrested through my parents."
News of Ellis swirled around her, but Rachel said her parents never put any pressure on her. "They asked if anything had happened to me ... I think mum was quite explicit, she said: `If a man came up to you and dropped his pants and ... you are not to let him do that, you are to run away and scream and yell and make as much noise as possible.' She asked me if anything like that had happened. I said `No'."
But she said she did feel pressure elsewhere. "I did feel pressure. Not by my parents, but by being interviewed and the general atmosphere. The questions made me uncomfortable.
"I wasn't frightened, just very unsettled in the sense that I had a feeling I was involved in something pretty serious. One of the women told me Peter had done all these really bad things, and I remember saying, `But he's a really nice guy'."
She said once Ellis had been convicted she never really thought about him again until his case reappeared in the media. "I was older and I was a bit smarter and as I understood everything I took more interest.
"I saw the media attention and I saw him in the news in court and I felt really bad for him. I thought he didn't deserve it. I remember thinking I would have remembered something like that (the abuse) and I would have been very uncomfortable or unsettled. I knew he didn't do it."
She said she had little to do with the other children from the creche once she left. "I saw my best friend from the creche a couple of years ago, but we never talked about it."
If she had, she would have asked: "What happened to you? Why didn't I know about this?"
Rachel said she signed the petition after someone asked her mother to sign it. "My mum said `Look, I've got this petition and you're more than welcome to sign it but, look, you are under no pressure.'
"And I said `No, I would love to sign it' because I had come to my own conclusion that he didn't do it."
Rachel has her opinions on why Ellis was convicted. "I think that because he was the only male there and that he was homosexual might have caused a bit of discomfort within some of the parents. When I think about it, it just comes down to that."
Rachel said she would like to read Lynley Hood's book. "(But) I think I'll finish Harry Potter before I read Lynley Hood."