At trial, Ellis faced 28 charges involving 13 children. He was charged with, among other things, urinating in a boy's face, placing his penis against a girl's vagina, placing his penis on her anus, touching a girl's vagina and inducing a girl to touch his penis. Some children alleged that he drove them in a white car to his flat in Hereford St, where they were allegedly abused. Most of the alleged abuse occurred in the toilets at the creche. "The offences were alleged to have taken place at unspecified times and dates between 1 May 1986 (four months before Ellis came to the creche) and 1 October 1992 (11 months after he left the creche, and one month after the creche was closed) (Hood, 2001)". Barristers Rob Harrison and Siobhan McNulty represented Ellis; Brent Stanaway and Chris Lange appeared for the Crown.
The complainants testified by two separate means: pre-recorded videotaped interviews conducted by Department of Social Welfare officers (evidence in chief); testimony via a closed circuit TV link to the children, who were outside the courtroom. Prosecutors had sanitised some of the charges so that few of the bizarre allegations were heard. Rulings by the judge, Neil Williamson, meant that the playing of videotaped interviews not specific to the charges were subject to restrictions. The defence was permitted to play tapes of their choice, but the following applied: unlike prosecution tapes, the child complainants did not have to view defence tapes; in contrast to the prosecution tapes, the jury did not receive a transcript of tapes played by the defence. Before testifying, the children watched portions of their tapes, upon which the prosecution relied, but did not view defence-onus tapes in which they had denied being abused or had made bizarre allegations. Each complainant was accompanied in the CCTV room by an adult, usually a social worker who had been counselling the child in the months leading up to the trial.
Peter Ellis testified that on the occasions he took children for walks, he was accompanied by an adult 75% of the time. The only two bus trips he had taken with children were well documented and had involved other staff members. He stated that he walked to work, did not take a bus and that he did not know the bus timetables. He later qualified that statement and said that sometimes, when it was raining, he would catch a bus to work. He said that whenever possible he would try to avoid nappy changes "and things like that". He accepted that he was "often in the toilets alone with children", as were other creche workers. He said that he had never had a driver's licence and had never owned a car. He could drive a car but he "wouldn't recommend anyone getting into it ". He said he would sometimes wear track suit pants without wearing underwear. He did this, he said, because he suffered from psoriasis.
The Crown prosecutor, Brent Stanaway, argued that Ellis took children on walks ostensibly so he could abuse them. Stanaway said there were only two walks recorded in the creche logbook for February 1990. Ellis said that the creche had moved to new premises near that time and that may have been the reason why there were fewer walks during that month. Ellis said he would sometimes forget to record details of the walks. If he was in a hurry, he would notify one of the creche staff and ask them to record the details. He said he didn't wear a watch but that walks lasted no longer than an hour and ten minutes. One of Ellis's colleagues testified that some walks lasted two hours or longer, but others confirmed Ellis's estimate.
One creche worker testified that Ellis had told her about taking photos of adult sex acts. Another said that Ellis had talked to her about "golden showers". It was alleged that Ellis and his mother had taken photos of adults engaged in sex. Ellis testified that he had not spoken to any creche worker about "golden showers". He admitted that he had talked about photos of sex acts with a colleague but that he was "having her on". Ellis owned a camera, as did the Civic Creche. An extensive police investigation turned up no photos of adult (or child) sex acts.
Two general practitioners of medicine appeared for the Crown. They testified about medical examinations of complainant children which were undertaken to record any physical evidence that supported sexual abuse. Their evidence neither confirmed nor excluded the possibility of sexual abuse. Both testified that abuse involving the trauma that was alleged by some of the children, such as insertion of sticks and burning paper into the anus, would result in severe pain and distress to children of that age and that such discomfort might last for days, dependent on its severity.
At least two of the children repeated claims that many adults had been involved in the abuse of children. Spike, Boulderhead, Yuckhead, Stupidhead and other names were mentioned. Several children testified that their parents had questioned them about Ellis. The questions bore a resemblance to the nature of the charges. For example, one boy testified that his mother had asked him if Ellis had urinated in his face. He said his mother had been told by other parents what Ellis had done to him. One girl said she "learnt about all the things Peter did" before being formally interviewed. When asked who taught her, she replied: "Cathy, and she told me what Peter did". The other interviewers denied coaching the children prior to their interviews. However, during Lynda Morgan's interview of child O (court code), the only complainant to be interviewed only once, the child agreed with Morgan that she had spoken to Sue Sidey prior to the interview.
Psychiatrist Karen Zelas was the prosecution's expert witness. She had advised police during their investigation as to how they should collect evidence. She had trained and overseen the interviewers and had attended the second parents' meeting. She had previously advised judges on how child sexual abuse cases should be prosecuted. She contributed to the formulation of section 23G of the Evidence Act, under which an expert can say that certain behaviours are "consistent with" sexual abuse. Scientists and research-based experts that do not have a clinical background are not permitted to testify in cases of sexual abuse.
Zelas testified that the complainants were credible and their evidence was plausible. Their behaviour, she said, was consistent with sexual abuse. When asked what behaviour was inconsistent with sexual abuse, Zelas replied: "I hadn't thought about that". She testified that direct questions were acceptable and useful. "There is a substantial body of research evidence that shows asking children direct questions increases substantially the amount of detail or information they are able to give…the asking of such questions does not lead to significantly more inaccurate answers". However, in a 1992 television interview (Holmes, TVNZ), Zelas said that parents who question their children about sexual abuse "might introduce ideas to the child by the way in which they ask questions…and then...it may be impossible to know whether or not their child actually has been abused". In August 1992, she wrote to the police saying that two of the complainants had undergone "highly leading questioning" from their parents. Her letter was not disclosed to Ellis's defence, and Zelas did not mention any concerns about the two children's credibility at trial.
Karen Zelas also testified that children had to experience sexual activity before they could describe it. "They have to either be told about it in explicit detail, observe it or have it done to them". She qualified that by saying that information provided to children to keep them safe was not sufficiently explicit to "give the children the depth of knowledge that would enable them to describe in detail…acts of sexual activity in a plausible manner".
Psychiatrist and defence expert, Keith Le Page, said that none of the behaviours described by Zelas were specific to sexual abuse. Le Page said that the child's family history had to be examined to determine other stressors in the child's life. Changing schools, for example, could be stressful. He said: "The only way to be certain is to get inside the child's mind at the moment when these things were happening because there was no evident stress from any child in relation to any of these things until they were questioned ". Le Page said that in his experience, children and adults who had been abused usually expressed distress when recounting their experiences of abuse. "It's not until they really come to terms with what has happened to them that their emotions will stabilise". The complainants showed little or no distress when describing acts of abuse during their interviews and when later testifying in court.
Le Page also testified that children couldn't remember events experienced at a very young age when there was a long delay between the event and the attempt to recall it. Children couldn't remember events, even traumatic events, that had occurred at two or three years of age when there was a long delay, he claimed. The alleged abuse at the creche had occurred when children were at these ages.
In June 1993 Ellis was convicted of 16 counts of sexual offences involving seven children. The following year he was acquitted of three charges involving the oldest complainant, who had retracted her allegations.
Read more about this topic: Peter Hugh Mc Gregor Ellis
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