Episode 3 of the Newsroom series Peter Ellis, the creche case and me investigates early lies and promises.

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 3 ABOVE OR LISTEN TO THE PODCAST

By mid-1992 Christchurch was enmeshed in a fear-driven hysteria that the unthinkable was not just possible, but highly likely.

Centre stage was a young gay man perplexed at how on earth people could believe claims that he kept giraffes in his back yard, buried a boy called Andrew in a coffin and cooked kittens.

As the firestorm of rumour and speculation raged, it grew from fear that a lone male crèche worker had abused children in his care to the possibility of an ever-expanding sex ring of abusers who were everywhere among us.

It was an American-driven philosophy that had taken hold in Christchurch, arriving in a near identical form as cases happening in California. What seemed and looked like insanity had suddenly become sane and explicable.

“Believe the children” was the mantra, and the children were talking about adults standing in circles and making children kick each other in the genitals, about children being drowned, run over, put down tunnels and hung in cages.

More than 100 Christchurch preschool and school-aged children were put through evidential interviews – some of them up to six interviews – in attempts to secure disclosures.

The panic was like a virus which spread through the families, and parents were gripped by fear, a frenzy led by therapists and the police.

One of the mothers described the relentless, enormous pressure to Melanie Reid: “It felt like every time the phone rang it was somebody from social welfare or the police or [Detective] Colin Eade wanting something from us. We couldn’t escape from it.”

With the new theory that Ellis hadn’t acted alone, children were being driven around the city pointing out houses and locations they said they’d been taken to before. Police raided multiple Christchurch homes looking for signs of sex abuse rings.

It seemed that whatever the police and interviewers looked for, they found.

Peter Ellis, the creche case & me is an 8-part Newsroom Investigates video series and podcast presented by Melanie Reid. WATCH EPISODE 4 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.

Bonnie Sumner is part of the Newsroom Investigates reporting team

Paul Enticott is Newsroom's Video Producer.

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