Section Two

The Corroborating Forensic Evidence


(2) The Corroborating forensic evidence

(2.1) Bodily Signs
(2.2) Toilet Layout
. Figure 1. Christchurch Civic Child Care Centre layout
(2.3) Homes Searched
(2.4) The Great Video Hunt
(2.5) ERO Report
(2.6) Window of opportunity
(2.7) Other parents and children
(2.8) Conclusions

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(2) The corroborating forensic evidence

"Phallus symbol/object"

Police description of property seized from Peter Ellis’s home, 1992

(2.1)     Bodily Signs

I am reminded of the hunt for bodily markings sought from the "witches" in Salem when Sas makes a claim of "medical support for vaginal penetration."(child S/Tess Hickory p50 Sas). I presume this refers to the child (or her mother?) recalling a sore and red vagina. The term "medical support" implies a doctor saw this and ventured an opinion as to the likely cause. The evidence does not strongly support the claims of penetration occurring at all. In Davies’ report, he states (p37) that he "understand(s) medical evidence consistent with sexual abuse was found for three of the children," but he goes on to say, "there were no indications to support the view " from the videotapes he viewed. Davies and Sas may have been misinformed (although Sas appears to readily accept such a claim). One local GP indicated that she found some evidence that she initially concluded was "consistent with" sexual penetration. Upon further consideration the doctor later withdrew her conclusion, recognising that it was inaccurate.

Ultimately, the prosecution admitted that there was no reliable evidence for any physical abuse.

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(2.2)     Toilet layout

If, as claimed by the prosecution, most of the offences occurred in the toilets, then they would have to show that it was possible to hide from the view of parents and other visitors who came in frequently and at random times during the day. One local dentist in particular would often drop over unannounced. There were many student teachers at the Civic childcare centre and almost a dozen other employees. It is clear from the visibility of the toilet area, and the fact that the door to the toilets was essentially always open, that Ellis could not have carried out all these offences unnoticed, yet no one observed any abuse. Ellis would have had to abuse the children with the toilet doors open. It is inconceivable that such frequent abuse could have occurred undetected. There was not a single adult witness and no one saw anything that corroborated the children’s stories.

The police apparently “mislaid” more than 200 relevant photographs taken by staff and parents over the years of the Civic childcare centre layout and of its daily operation. Pre-trial the police denied all knowledge of the existence of these photographs in response to requests for them from Ellis’s defence counsel. The photographs were consequently found by Ellis’s defence team in November 1996 in Christchurch City Council archives along with a property receipt that clearly indicated that they belonged to a set of photographs removed by police from the childcare centre on 4 September 1992.

During the trial Detective Neville Barry Jenkins was asked by the defence to explain why, given that the police had photographed almost every square metre of the centre, the police had no photos that adequately illustrated the highly important lines of sight from the main playroom into the toilet lobby and cubicles (the latterly discovered mislaid photographs did illustrate these aspects).

His best explanation to the court was;

“I don’t think there would be any particular reason for [is] simply my opinion as to how they [the photos] should be. Certainly there would be a number of inadequacies about the photographs but nothing would be deliberate in that, it is very difficult to depict a scene such as that [in photos].”

It is reported (Hood p205) that Ellis hated toileting the children and tried to avoid this task. That fact weakens the prosecution case considerably, as the most credible of the allegations, those made early in the interviewing process, sets the abuse in the toilets.


Figure 1 (above). Christchurch Civic Child Care Centre layout

drawn by supervisor Gaye Davidson August 2003

The layout is still visible in the Cranmer centre building  Davidson recalls that the handles on the toilet doors may have been too high for the children to reach, and so they were left open. The toilets were adult size, so there were boxes for the children to stand on. At the "womble" end, where smaller children were, the toilets were smaller. Davidson had a view of the toilet area through her office window, where she was about half the time. NB. Dr Parsonson’s report (see section 8.1) places some of the alleged events outside the toilets. The door to the toilets was always kept open.

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(2.3)     Homes Searched

For detailed eyewitness accounts of the police searches the reader is referred to Hood pp 407- 412, 422 - 424. The police thoroughly searched the homes of Ellis and the other four women, but failed to find anything even remotely suggesting sexual depravity. Sas (p14) overcompensates for the lack of solid evidence with the indisputably biased statement that:

"The police made a gallant [sic] effort…to find the locations…traps doors, etc…".

Police evidence with regard to the Cranmer centre roof, and the Hereford Street address was most unconvincing, as was later revealed, both in a subsequent television programme and in the court transcripts.

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(2.4)     The Great Video Hunt

Hood reports that the police carried out an epic hunt, searching for local video recordings of child pornography. They viewed so many videotapes that they wore out their machines. Hood describes (pages 409 –410) how Detective Jenkins appeared to believe that he is on to something big when he visited the home of a Civic childcare centre family, who supported Ellis. He informed the family’s mother that because she wasn’t co-operating with the police, then she must be a child abuser. Rather like a Kafkaesque scene in a black comedy, the family then decide to hide their family videos of Thomas the Tank Engine, etc, from the police.

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(2.5)     ERO Report

The case against Ellis originally included charges against four of his colleagues. It is of relevance, given this inclusion, to note that just after Ellis was suspended, the Education Review Office (ERO) investigated the Civic childcare centre and issued a glowing report. At that time his co-workers were not under suspicion, although the ERO had been informed that there had been a complaint against Ellis. Given such conditions it is reasonable to assume that the ERO team would have noticed something amiss had Ellis or his co-workers been committing the crimes they were later charged with.

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(2.6)     Window of opportunity

Ellis was convicted on four counts involving offences at an outside address. Ellis had to be capable of pulling off a masterpiece of remarkably precise logistics, especially in regard to the "bath" and circle allegations, presumably at the Hereford St address. He had to have marshalled an unknown number of adults and children to what must have been a very precise timetable. It included

o        contacting his co-offenders (using the childcare centre telephone?) to arrange their presence at a remote venue,

o        walking with the children to the venue through busy city streets, theprosecution case suggested the unlikely use of public buses,

o        running baths, undressing and abusing the children,

o        cleaning up (this included removing all traces of blood, urine and faeces) and returning on foot to the Civic childcare centre in order to deliver his charges back to the centre in a perfectly calm state.

All this had to be done within the typical walk duration of 60 minutes or less. The single fact that he did not own a car, could not drive and that no one saw him drive renders the time frame implausible. No child ever made any negative comment after returning from a walk with Ellis. His alleged co-offenders must also have been extraordinarily accommodating and patient, given the Civic childcare centre’s organisation and its timetables, Ellis would have had little idea as to which days opportunities to offend might arise.

Given their logistics, the lack of corroboration from any adult witnesses for these allegations and their apparently far-fetched nature, the alleged scenarios are extremely unlikely to have been even possible.

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(2.7)     Other parents and children

It was reported (Dominion Post 4 Oct 2003) that nine children and 17 parents who were involved with the civic centre at the time of the case have signed the petition calling for an inquiry. Of the 127 children interviewed, only nine ended up in court and those who remain strongly convinced of Ellis’s guilt may now well be in a minority. Post-trial the police believed about eighty children had been abused (Ansley 1993), had there been such widespread abuse it would be reasonable to expect that a strong majority of the other parents and children would have noticed something amiss, and would have spoken out, both then and now.

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(2.8)     Conclusions

In his university textbook on human memory, Neath (1998, page 338) states

"if the only evidence is from an eyewitness and there is no other objective or corroborative evidence, then there is no way to assess the accuracy of the memory."

Perhaps if the children had all agreed on most of the details, this would constitute evidence for the case against Ellis. However, the children had every opportunity to develop similar stories; with allegations being passed to interviewers before the interviews as well as being passed on through parent networks, police, therapists, and sleepovers with the children. This all occurred before the formal allegations, so we are drawn back to the forgoing statement.

It is clear that the some of the police had a strong prior assumption of guilt. Despite consistent failure they persisted in searching for hard evidence of trapdoors, tunnels, cages and other unlikely props.

Given the number and variety of alleged offences in various locations, it would be reasonable to assume that there would be adult witnesses and some other hard evidence. Such evidence might be in the form of the photos or videos that children alleged were taken, or the scenes and props that some children spoke about. That no evidence even remotely matching these descriptions was ever found, is a point worth restating.

I conclude that Sas is clutching at straws in regard to her "medical support for vaginal penetration".

Eichelbaum fails to explain away the lack of corroborating evidence. All evidence from adult eyewitnesses points in the opposite direction (eg the ERO report on the childcare centre).

Given the bias discussed in the previous section and the lack of hard evidence this report has already established reasonable doubt over the Ellis convictions. To explore further sources of doubt, the whole context of the interviews and of what preceded them needs to be examined.

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