A long-time supporter of Peter Ellis says his case will not be allowed to die with him.
Ellis, 61, died at a hospice about noon on Wednesday after battling advanced bladder cancer. He had been fighting to clear his name some 26 years after he was convicted of sex offences against seven children at the Christchurch Civic Creche.
In July, he filed a successful application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. He lost his case in the Court of Appeal nearly 20 years ago, in October 1999.
His lawyer, Robert Harrison, said Ellis “slipped away peacefully” surrounded by family and friends.
“The family are immensely proud of Peter and the dignified way he lived his life and wish to thank everyone for their support,” he said.
Winston Wealleans, whose wife worked at the Civic Creche with Ellis and who steadfastly supported Ellis since his arrest in 1991, said Ellis had been a big part of his life.
“People thought I was bonkers but I could see an injustice and I had to do something about it. I was determined to ask questions even if I only got bulls… back,” he said.
“It’s not going to die with him. It’s got to carry on. So many people have been affected in similar ways to Peter by the same experts. It’s just too important to let go. He will leave a legacy of an example of injustice that can still be righted.”
The Supreme Court indicated it would consider hearing Ellis’ appeal even if he died before the hearing date.
The court had scheduled the appeal to be heard over four days from November 11 to 14 with one reserve day if needed.
Harrison said he would apply to the Supreme Court asking that the appeal still proceed.
Lynley Hood, whose 2001 book A City Possessed concluded Ellis was innocent, said it was sad he did not survive to see his Supreme Court appeal.
“Even though we were expecting it, it’s still a shock … there are far wider issues involved. Twelve childcare workers had lost their jobs and unblemished reputations. He was so dignified and never blamed the children. He really cared about them.
“Peter’s big worry was the [complainant] children needed to know they weren’t abused.”
The justice system had not worked and needed to be corrected to ensure the public could have confidence in it, she said.
Nigel Hampton QC, who represented Ellis on appeal, hoped the Supreme Court would set aside the convention in New Zealand that appeals died with the appellant.
A Canadian line of authority suggested a case could be heard after the appellant’s death if the appeal had been lodged and substantive matters needed to be heard and decided.
If the Supreme Court decided not to hear the appeal, an application for a royal prerogative for a free pardon could be lodged.
Will a dying Peter Ellis, convicted in 1993 of child sex abuse charges, be cleared to enjoy his last three months of life? Sharon Brettkelly discusses the case with court reporter Martin van Beynen on RNZ’s podcast The Detail.
If a criminal review body was enacted, it might be able to hear the case posthumously, he said.
“Given the buffeting he received during this life he was amazingly philosophical. He was open-hearted and generous particularly to the [complainant] children. He had no ill will, no resentment towards them. He saw them as victims.”
Gaye Davidson, the Civic Creche supervisor when the allegations first surfaced, remembered a “stoic little guy” who never wanted anything but the truth to come out.
“A lot of people need the truth to come out. We still need our names cleared and, for his memory, we need to keep fighting to have his name cleared. It’s not going away because he died.”
Ellis had remained very loyal to anyone who had been affected by the creche saga, from the child complainants to people whose relationships had broken up because they chose different sides.
“I can’t believe how caring he was about people who wanted to condemn him. He wanted everyone cleared and everyone remembered,” she said.
Davidson and three other female creche workers were in 1992 charged with offending at the creche but the charges were dropped.
The original case involved sometimes bizarre allegations that first emerged in 1991 and led to several Christchurch Civic Creche workers being charged, although only Ellis was convicted.
It was alleged the children were violated with needles and forced to perform bizarre and violent sexual rituals, drink urine, and were defecated on.
Ellis’ defenders claim the stories were figments of the preschoolers’ imaginations.
He served seven years of a 10-year jail sentence, before being released in February 2000.
Ellis told Stuff in July the main reason for the renewed bid was the culmination of research by the University of Otago on the reliability of children’s evidence. It was time “to put it out there again”.
“I have no intention to enlisting the sympathy vote. I’ve never wavered, I’ve never changed my stance. It will be stand on its own merits,” he said.
“It was wrong then and it is wrong now.”
He believed the creche case was part of a worldwide phenomenon that could have hit any creche in New Zealand. Other countries had dealt with the resulting wrongful convictions while New Zealand had yet to “sort it out”, he said.
“It should matter to all New Zealanders. If you didn’t do something you shouldn’t have it sitting over your head. If we shelved it, it would be wrong.
“This deserves to be dealt with regardless if I live or die. This has been part of the New Zealand legal system and it still rankles. Something is crooked.”
The grounds of appeal recorded in a Supreme Court summary of Ellis’ latest application are to consider whether there was a miscarriage of justice:
– Arising from risks of contamination of or improperly obtained children’s evidence;
– Arising from lack of expert evidence on the reliability of child complainants’ evidence;
– Due to unreliable expert evidence being led at trial.
A CASE HISTORY
1991: Peter Ellis was suspended from his job at the Civic Creche after allegations of sex offences were made.
1993: Ellis convicted of 16 charges at the High Court in Christchurch.
1994: Three convictions overturned by Appeal Court after one complainant says she lied.
1999: Court of Appeal upholds remaining 13 convictions.
2000: Ellis is released from jail having served seven years of a 10-year sentence.
2000: Review by former Chief Justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum did not find the convictions were unsafe.
2001: A City Possessed by Lynley Hood criticises the convictions.
2003: Petitions call for a Royal Commission of Inquiry.
2014: Failed call for an independent inquiry by former National Party leader Don Brash and author Lynley Hood.