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As dying Peter Ellis appeals child sex rituals convictions again, court should consider 'moral panic' of the '90s, ex-lawyer says

A Christchurch senior lawyer hopes the Supreme Court will consider the moral panic of the '90s when Christchurch man Peter Ellis takes his appeal to them over his sexual assault convictions against seven children.

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Nigel Hampton QC talked to TVNZ1’s Breakfast about the 1993 case and Ellis’ last hope at ridding his 16 sexual assault convictions. Source: Breakfast

But Ellis' former lawyer, Nigel Hampton QC, told TVNZ1's Breakfast today the court will likely take a narrow focus - again.

Ellis has been fighting to clear his name for 28 years in what some have described as the most egregious miscarriage of justice in New Zealand’s history. He is asking his case be considered at New Zealand's highest court urgently as the 61-year-old is terminally ill.

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Ellis’ case has been described as the worst miscarriage of justice in New Zealand history. Source: 1 NEWS

In June 1993, Ellis was found guilty of 16 counts of sexual offences involving children in his care at Christchurch Civic Crèche and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He served seven.

The children accused him of carrying out violent sexual rituals, but prosecutors were later criticised for relying too heavily on their testimony. The case was highly controversial and divided Christchurch at the time, with critics also taking issue with the techniques social workers used to interview the children.

At that time, moral panic was spreading around the Western world on ritual satanic abuse - and had come to New Zealand in the early 1990s, Mr Hampton said.

He called the convictions "as wrong as I could ever imagine".

It "has always been Peter's claim and it is the view of those around him, and those who support him and who've maintained his innocence, that no offences were ever committed", he said.  

"That's the extraordinary thing, and it means that as well given the background that led to this moral panic involving these children, it means that these children, now adults, were victims as well."

Mr Hampton also said the way interviews with the then-children were pared back and edited for the jury completely destroyed its credibility in court. "All around, an unbalanced view was given to this jury," he said. 

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The National leader doesn't think a criminal cases review commission needs to be established.

The first series of appeals 25 years ago were considered on a narrow basis of what happened at the trial, Mr Hampton said, adding it didn't look at the wider perspective of what was happening at the time in regards to moral panic spreading around the world.

"It's a very narrow and constrained look at it," he said. 

A second appeal in 1999 ran into the same difficulties - focusing only on what the process was like at the court.

When asked what needs to be done this time, in Ellis' final opportunity to clear his name, Mr Hampton said, "this is still a court in that hierarchical structure of courts in New Zealand, and it will still have to be focused on what happened at trial".

He also said the appeal will have to be focused on new research and new evidence that proves the basis on which the material was put in front of the jury was so tainted it was wrong.