The Christchurch Civic Crèche Case

A City Possessed - by Lynley Hood - Index

A City Possessed - Reviews


Hawke's Bay Today
December 8, 2001.

Modern day witch hunt uncovered
Book Review by Peter de Graaf

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

Even before you open A City Possessed, the cover - with its Gothic lettering and 17th century woodcut - hints at the author's conclusion. Peter Ellis, convicted for child sexual abuse in one of the most shocking criminal cases of the last decade, was the victim of a witch hunt.

It's an edifying, meticulously researched read, but this 600-page work is unlikely to be a popular stocking filler. Instead, it's a book that will (or should) be studied by lawyers, sociologists, psychologists and childhealth workers.

Hood spent seven years on the project and, unlike some recent books on other high-profile cases, she did not set out to prove Ellis' innocence. Instead, she was motivated at first by her interest in folk tales and how they shape our beliefs.

Hood's tale begins 30 years ago, tracing the inexorable rise of the "moral panic" that meant someone, somewhere, would be accused of ritual child sexual abuse.

If Hood is right, Peter Ellis' greatest crime was being in the wrong place at the wrong time. His homosexuality, hard drinking and unconventional behaviour made him the modern witch hunt's equivalent of the elderly widow.

Although the evidence against Ellis was enough to lose him a trial and two appeals, Hood raises serious questions about his convictions: the leading questions put to child witnesses, the manipulation of video evidence, the mysterious discharge of all other accused, and the shift of the crimes from the creche to mystery locations, aided by mystery accomplices.

Importantly, Hood shows that none of the people involved conspired to jail an innocent man. All were driven by a desire to uncover child abuse and punish its perpetrators.

Whatever you make of Hood's conclusion, A City Possessed can only cast more doubt on Ellis' convictions and on our legal processes. But more chilling still is the thought of how little has changed from 17th century Salem to 20th century Christchurch.