The Christchurch Civic Crèche Case

A City Possessed - by Lynley Hood - Index

A City Possessed - Reviews


Manawatu Standard
October 19 2001

Country caught by ritual abuse panic
Book Review by Mike Behrens QC.

A City Possessed:
The Christchurch Civic Creche Case
by Lynley Hood.
Publisher: Longacre Press 2001

The word is devastation from the Latin, to lay waste.

This book devastated me and certainly laid waste law makers, sexual abuse professionals, child protection workers, policemen, lawyers, judges, parents and any image we might have of ourselves as a thinking, caring culture immune from nonsense.

"There are few monsters in the world," writes Hood. "In the grand sweep of human existence, the harm inflicted on innocent people by criminals and psychopaths is miniscule compared to the harm inflicted by ordinary well-intentioned citizens going about their daily work in a spirit of duty, loyalty and service." Unlike the accusers of Peter Ells, she proves her point beyond reasonable doubt.

The book is very long and is inexorable in its pursuit of the half-baked, the idiotic, the non-sequitur and the charlatan. They are all run down and rounded up, corralled labelled for you, O perfect reader, to gaze at.

Sometimes it is easy to forget that the work was spawned by the creche adventures of Peter Ellis. He makes an appearance at page 200 but all through the reading he dances in the shadows with his long fingernails, exotic clothes, teasing ways and a chemistry that allows him to understand what it is to be a child.

His 10-year sentence for crimes against children has finished but still the law writhes and wrestles with the problem of his innocence. The law has finished with his four co-workers, who, for a comparatively short time stood in the dock too, before being condemned by, our version of "not proven" and punished accordingly with the loss of just about everything, including for one, a life.

Hood sweeps away the perpetrators and administrators of the law brusquely: ". . . by the late '80s, white, middle-class men were suffering from white, middle-class guilt and were anxious to atone." They had been sucked in, she says. Miriam Saphira's message "that child sexual abuse was an insidious and overwhelming evil had become protection orthodoxy".

This is not bandwagon stuff. Hood makes her points clinically and with the authority of an historian who has left no source unturned. Her approach is to state a position and then take lots and lots of words to explain why that is so. It is a technique that works to produce a sickness in the gut.

But if anyone picks up her book expecting to find emotional force for the view that the incidence of child abuse is exaggerated or even invented they will be confounded. Her colours are on the mast for all to see but the nails are driven in with logic and scholarship.

She shows New Zealand to have been caught in the world ritual abuse panic that was unleashed in America in the 1980s. Before too long most American child protection workers were treating ritual abuse claims as unquestionably true. She traces to New Zealand the claims of "experts" and the "experts" themselves who were funded here by public monies to sow their suspect seed.

Hood's thesis is that the gay creche worker, the homophobic policemen, the flat city, the strident feminists, the indolent and shallow media and some nutty and fearful parents came together in a witch hunt and from that moment, the horoscope was cast into a Star Chamber fashioned by politicians who had made child abuse a crime apart. What they did, says Hood, was to move the hearing of such charges out of the courtroom and into the interview room.

She looks at the controversial law change that allows expert witnesses to opine on whether evidence is consistent or inconsistent with the behaviour of sexually abused children, thus enabling them "to confound juries with unscientific material". Her description of how it is that so-called expert opinion in New Zealand has come from discredited material abroad is embarrassing and chilling.

A jury, eight judges of the Court of Appeal and a ministerial inquiry chaired by a former Chief Justice have considered a case against Peter Ellis but no one has actually considered all the evidence against him. Some bizarre legal rulings have ensured the case about him has never been examined. Those who believe the adversarial system is the bee’s knees must be discomforted by the explanation of how it was the jury did not see all the evidential tapes made by the child complainants.

Hood shows that really you only have one chance and that is the first one before the jury of your peers. If that goes wrong then the rest of the legal system is devoted to protecting itself and its own rather than the individual.

It is ironic that apparently we are to ditch the Privy Council because the politicians think we can handle justice ourselves. This book shows that we are very much adolescent in our fumbling with it. Parliament would do much better to read this book and then move to pardon Peter Ellis.

A City Possessed is remarkable and notable work. It is full of erudition and sarky wit and is in a style that can strip paint.

You be the jury.

Picture: Sunday Star Times - Peter Ellis: His 10-year sentence for crimes against children has finished but still the law writhes and wrestles with the problem of his innocence