Peter Hugh McGregor Ellis

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Peter Ellis, 2015.

Peter Hugh McGregor Ellis (30 March 1958 – 4 September 2019) was a New Zealand childcare worker who was wrongfully convicted of child sexual abuse. He was at the centre of one of the country's most enduring judicial controversies, after being found guilty in June 1993 in the High Court on 16 counts of sexual offences involving children in his care at the Christchurch Civic Creche and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. He maintained his innocence until his death 26 years later and was supported by many New Zealanders in his attempts to overturn his convictions, although others believed he was guilty. Concerns about the reliability of the convictions centred on far-fetched stories told by many of the children (alleging Satanic ritual abuse) and the interview techniques used to obtain their testimony.

In 1994, Ellis took his case to the Court of Appeal which quashed convictions on three of the charges but upheld the sentence. His conviction and sentence were upheld in his second appearance before the Court of Appeal in October 1999. In March 2000, former Chief Justice Sir Thomas Eichelbaum was appointed to conduct a ministerial inquiry reviewing the children's evidence. His report upheld the guilty verdicts. The same month Governor-General Sir Michael Hardie Boys rejected Ellis' third bid for pardon on the advice of Justice Minister Phil Goff, who was satisfied with Eichelbaum's finding that Ellis had failed to prove his convictions were unsafe. Ellis refused to attend parole board hearings while in prison because he would have to confess to the crimes in order to obtain early release.

Ellis was eventually released in February 2000 after serving seven years in prison. After his release, he continued campaigning to clear his name. In 2019, nineteen years after he was released, he appealed to the Supreme Court to have his conviction overturned. Although he died of cancer before the appeal could be heard, the Supreme Court allowed the appeal in the interests of justice and delivered a judgment in October 2022. The Supreme Court quashed Ellis' convictions, finding that there were problems with the evidence of the main prosecution witness, a psychiatrist, and the jury had not been fairly informed of the risk of contamination of the children's evidence. This marked the first time that a conviction has been quashed posthumously in New Zealand.

The Ellis case was one of several similar high-profile child abuse cases around the world in the 1980s and early 1990s as part of the Satanic panic, and has been mentioned as a cause in the decline in the number of male teachers in New Zealand schools. Two books and numerous articles have been written about the case.

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