The Christchurch Civic Crèche Case

A City Possessed - by Lynley Hood - Index

A City Possessed - Reviews


New Zealand GP
October 31 2001

Modern-day witch-hunters
Book Review by Dr Jim Hefford

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

Anyone reading this book would have to agree there remains no further need for any new examination of the Peter Ellis case. Hood, a scientist, has done it for them - exhaustively over seven years - with the result compressed into these 600 pages.

Her book is a devastating Indictment of the virtual reality rituals of the courtroom, and of significant sections of the counsellors and doctors Involved In the sexual abuse field.

Hood describes herself as 'a 58-year-old, heterosexual, politically liberal atheist' who regards diversity as 'the spice of life'. She has an MSc in physiology, three children, and has been married to the same man for more than 30 years.

I first met her when she visited my wife while researching Sylvia!, her biography of Sylvia Ashton Warner. In her later book, Who Is Sylvia? The Diary of a Biography, Hood records that she told the dying Sylvia that ‘when I write the story of your life I'm going to get it right'. Most who knew the innovative educationalist and author (who was certainly different things to different people) would agree Hood got it pretty right.

The same ambition drove Hood as she delved into the Christchurch Civic Creche case.

What is more interesting than any discussion of Ellis's guilt or innocence is the background and motives of those involved and the way this case fits the pattern of other witch-hunts of history.

Ellis was a flamboyant homosexual with a wicked sense of fun. Despite his conviction, he seems to have retained his ability to make jokes. In 1994, after years in prison, he was visited by his lawyers who delivered the result of the Appeal Court ruling on the Queen versus Peter Hugh McGregor Ellis. 'Which one am I?'  asked Ellis.

Thousands of women were burnt at the stake in the witch-hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries. They were guided by such doctrine as the infamous Malleus Maleficarum (penned by two Inquisitors in 1486) which pronounced, among other things: 'All witchcraft is caused by carnal lust which is in women insatiable.' [1] Hood calls these witch-hunts stereotyping by gender and compares them to the radical cry of the 1980s that 'all men are rapists'.

In the witch-hunt years, the laws of evidence were changed so that completely unsupported hearsay - however obtained - was acceptable in court.

In our own time, New Zealand has gone further: unsupported evidence extracted from young children after repeated 'counselling' sessions is acceptable and it seems courts can be instructed to ignore repeated attempts by children to retract their stories. The Christchurch jury was not allowed to learn of the fantastic and bizarre flights of imagination provided by the children to please the social workers.

Three converging movements fuelled the sexual abuse witch-hunt: the upsurge of conservative religion, radical feminism and the growth of the counselling and sexual abuse industries.

In the Christchurch case, families, whether complainants or not, were offered $10,000 in ACC lump sum payments, and 40 families took advantage of the offer. Sexual abuse counselling was available at $50 a session, paid by ACC; 2700 sessions were claimed.

Hood's judgment is that the Ellis trial was a dual event. At one level it was a formal determination of the accused's guilt, at another 'a community purification ritual brought into being by years of city-wide anxiety over allegations of rampant sexual abuse, clandestine pornography rings and Satanic cults'.

No matter how those at the centre of the proceedings - the judge, the jury and the prosecutors - played their parts, 'the drama would end as it had to end in the ceremonial scapegoating of Peter Ellis'. When it was all over, the leader of the police team expressed his satisfaction on Holmes: 'God Is not mocked.'

Recently, I attended a talk by Hood at the School of Psychology at Victoria University. The lawyers present discussed the scandalous inadequacies of the Appeal Court and review systems. Judges are appointed for life and there is no peer review or quality assurance. And, it seems, it would cost the government millions if a significant number of judgments were overturned.

Hood wondered if the process of reform might start by setting up something like the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission at which the falsely convicted might present their case and, if it were justified, obtain acknowledgement and perhaps apology but not financial compensation.

[1] Kramer H, Sprenger J. Malleus Maleficarum, First published 1496, now available (translated) as a paperback and throughout the Internet


Graphic: Author Lynley Hood holds the product of seven years research.