Written by Katie Todd for RNZ

Three women say Peter Ellis' "death-dance" is taking them to breaking point, after claims he sexually abused their daughters in 1991.

The Supreme Court is deciding if an appeal Ellis lodged to clear his name can proceed, after he died from cancer in September.

The former Christchurch Civic Creche worker always maintained his innocence after being found guilty of 16 counts of sexual abuse in 1993, and repeatedly sought to overthrow the convictions.


But the mothers say their daughters have been unable to move on for nearly three decades, and they worry other sexual abuse survivors will be put off seeking justice.

Ruth*, a teacher, said the words she heard from her daughter shortly after Ellis' arrest, were still painful to recall.

"I said to her that Peter wasn't working at the crèche anymore. She was at school at this point and she said, 'oh, why not?'"

"I said, 'well, apparently he's been hurting some children'. She didn't say anything. I said, 'has he hurt you?' And she said, 'yes'. I said, 'why haven't you told me?' and she said, 'because he said he would burn your eyes out if I told'."

The jury found Ellis not guilty of abusing Ruth's daughter. But over the next few years, Ruth said her daughter would continue bringing up strange memories of Ellis, including him "sexing" her.

"It was true but I really didn't want it to be true," she said.

She said it was just the start of 28 years of trauma for her and her daughter.

Ellis' guilty verdict was the subject of two police investigations, trips to the Court of Appeal, a Ministerial inquiry and petitions calling for independent reviews - and he became the focal point of intense media coverage, books and public support as people criticised the reliability of the children's testimonies.


"Every time he tried to appeal or, you know, sneezed, his photo would be pretty much on the front page of the newspaper and splashed all over the news at night," Ruth said.

This year brought "a sense of relief" for Ruth as she heard of Ellis' death and thought she'd seen and heard the last of him. That was followed by horror at the revelation the Supreme Court might still hear his final appeal.

It could consider whether there was a miscarriage of justice due to the children's evidence being improperly obtained, a lack of expert evidence and unreliable expert evidence at Ellis' trial.

"Most people get to move on. We haven't been able to move on. The children haven't been able to move on," Ruth said.

At the start of the appeal last month, Ellis' lawyer Rob Harrison acknowledged it was a difficult situation and mentioned the stress for the complainants.

But another mother who felt sickened by the possibility of the appeal proceeding, said she'd had to turn to anti-nausea tablets to cope.


After the first claims against Ellis in 1991, Angela's* daughter told her she too had been touched inappropriately at the crèche, and told to keep quiet or else her mum would turn into a frog.

The family spoke extensively with the police about it, but eventually chose not to file legal proceedings to protect their identities, and found safety living in Australia for the daughter's primary school years.


But Angela, a nurse, described the possibility of the appeal going ahead as "devastating" and "disrespectful" for victims.

She said she still doesn't understand the scepticism around the case.

"A three-year-old is not going to tell fibs ... you can just tell when a child's not telling you the truth. But this was totally the truth. And that's I think the worst thing, is the children now not being believed," she said.

Another mother, Lisa*, said people should recognise that the children of the Christchurch crèche showed "the most amazing courage" when they spoke to their parents about what he'd done.


Peter Ellis was caring for her daughter at the crèche in 1991 when behavioural and physical signs of abuse emerged, but without any other claims at that point, Lisa didn't think to suspect Ellis and blamed her own bad parenting.

Through what Lisa said was a "horrible, invasive" medical examination and "exhaustive" interview process, the daughter became one of seven children Ellis was found guilty of abusing.

"But the children were terrified of talking against him," she said.

"When [my daughter] had her first evidential interview, she made me check every single toilet and their building because she thought it was a trick and Peter was going to be there waiting for her."

Lisa said years of appeals hadn't put any doubt in her mind that the court got it right.

However, she said she was very anxious about speaking out, after being burned "over and over and over again".


"For some reason there's just this deep human need to be believed. The hardest thing, in some ways, hasn't been the abuse. It's been not being believed," she said.

The Supreme Court is taking written submissions from the crown and Ellis' legal team, before the justices decide if the case will proceed.

A ruling is expected early next year.

*Names have been changed for legal reasons.