Episode 1 of the Newsroom series Peter Ellis, the creche case and me pulls you into a time of fear and hysteria, and Peter Ellis talks of his shock and dismay at being considered a child abuser.

In never-before-seen footage and interviews, this gripping new series takes you inside one of New Zealand’s most controversial legal cases, when a kind of madness gripped Christchurch, resulting in a miscarriage of justice that would take 30 years to put right.

Peter Ellis, the creche case & me is an 8-part Newsroom Investigates video series and podcast presented by Melanie Reid. WATCH EPISODE 1 ABOVE OR LISTEN TO THE PODCAST

“It’s not bizarre. It’s just totally and utterly unbelievable.” It was 1993 and the climate in Christchurch had reached fever pitch. Peter Ellis, a 34-year-old childcare worker with curly hair and glasses held together with Sellotape, sat on a couch in a rundown motel for an interview with a young television reporter, Melanie Reid.

On Sunday afternoons they met secretly to film interviews with Ellis while the city around them erupted with panic. They smoked cigarettes and drank cups of tea and shared jokes. Reid liked him immediately and knew from the beginning there was something not quite right with what was going on.

Ellis was facing so many charges of child abuse people were losing count – and then there were the four women who worked with him at the Christchurch Civic Creche who were also charged.

The police and specialist interviewers engaged by the department of social welfare were convinced not only that Ellis was an abuser, but they also believed he couldn’t have acted alone. At one point the police wanted to arrest more women creche workers – and even Peter Ellis’ mother.

More than 100 children were put through gruelling specialist interviews, and some underwent invasive medical examinations.

It was a time of an American-driven philosophy about child sex abuse – one that involved satanic rituals and wild, unimaginable claims of cages and tunnels and dead children – and as with the Christchurch Civic Creche case there was no medical evidence, no forensic evidence and no corroborating evidence required to convict.

New Zealand’s own version would become one of the most extraordinary court cases in our history and one of the biggest miscarriages of justice this nation has seen.

How did it happen? How was it allowed to happen? How did the police, the judiciary, the Crown, the Ministry of Justice, social workers and specialist interviewers all get it so wrong?

Melanie Reid was the only reporter Ellis would speak to before his imprisonment in June 1993, convicted of abusing seven children in his care, and she would continue to cover his fight for justice over the next three decades.

Much of the raw footage and interviews, recorded on dozens of beta tapes, was about to be binned by TV3 during a building renovation but Reid saw to it they were kept.

Now, for the first time, these historic interviews and footage allow us to tell the real story behind the Christchurch Civic Creche case. A story of how fear, homophobia and conservatism ruined the life of an innocent man.

Peter Ellis, the creche case & me is an 8-part Newsroom Investigates video series and podcast presented by Melanie Reid. WATCH EPISODE 2 OR LISTEN TO THE PODCAST

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This series contains discussion of themes that some people may find distressing. Click here for a list of support services and helplines.

Melanie Reid is Newsroom's lead investigations editor.

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