Bridges: Peter Ellis conviction “fundamentally was a miscue”, but too bad

Peter Ellis was found guilty of 16 sexual offences in 1993, related to his time working at the Christchurch Civic Creche. He was sentenced to 10 years in jail.

There were absurd allegations, and there were serious question raised about the investigation and especially about how children were interviewed, and how bizarre claims were promoted by the prosecution.

If there was ever a case that needed reassessing I think the Ellis case must be at the top of the list.

National leader Simon Bridges has now said – speaking as a lawyer – that the conviction “fundamentally was a miscue”, but disappointingly then dropped the ball and kicked it back under the carpet.

Newsroom: Bridges backs Peter Ellis over wrongful conviction claim

Peter Ellis, the former childcare worker who claims he was wrongfully convicted of child sex abuse, has a new advocate – National leader Simon Bridges.

Speaking at a community event in Auckland on Friday morning, Bridges was asked about his views on Ellis’ case and the broader issue of wrongful convictions.

“I say this as Simon Bridges, lawyer, not as Simon Bridges, politician: when I look at all of the convictions you see in New Zealand, people have all of these views…there’s only one that I would say fundamentally was a miscue, and that’s the Peter Ellis one.”

Bridges told Newsroom after the event he believed Ellis had been subject to a miscarriage of justice.

“My view is if you look at it out of all the other ones, people have their different views but you look at the evidence [for other wrongful conviction claims], there’s definitely a prosecution case there.

“The difference with the Peter Ellis one was there were things that went awry in the prosecution and the investigation, and there was something of a witch hunt about that one.”

I think that just about everyone accepts this. Good on Bridges for saying it out loud.

However, Bridges stopped short of calling for an inquiry or any other action, saying he was unsure whether “all these years on there are necessarily things to be done”.

That’s an extremely disappointing response. It is important that justice is seen to be done, and that means rectifying injustice.

In 2015, the National government knocked back a request for a commission of inquiry into the case, with then-Justice Minister Amy Adams saying it was not the right mechanism to determine his guilt or innocence.

That was even more disappointing. If a commission of inquiry isn’t ‘the right mechanism’ why the hell hasn’t any Government since the conviction ensured the right mechanism was used to right what looks like a disgraceful injustice?

One of the biggest flaws in our justice system is the great difficulty it has with dealing with bad decisions and undoing harm done to innocent people.

Some eventually get some redress, like Arthur Allan Thomas and Teina Pora – but they took far too long.

Despite his views on Ellis, Bridges was lukewarm about Justice Minister Andrew Little’s work on a Criminal Cases Review Commission to look at apparent miscarriages of justice, telling the crowd there were “many safety valves in the system”.

Those ‘safety valves’ sometimes fail badly, as they seem to have in the Ellis case.

If Little succeeds in setting up a Criminal Cases Review Commission that may or may not help Ellis have his case reviewed, but that is likely to be years away at best.

It is good to hear Bridges prepared to openly criticise the Ellis conviction, but he has not gone far enough.

This should be a no-brainer for showing real leadership, especially with his background as a lawyer and prosecutor. Unfortunately Bridges has broomed this under the carpet.