The Christchurch Civic Crèche Case

A City Possessed - by Lynley Hood - Index

A City Possessed - Reviews


FMS Foundation Newsletter
January/February 2002, Vol 11 No 1

A City Possessed
Book review - editorial

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

The great witchhunts of history "represented the fusion of three separate but related sociological disturbances: a moral panic, an epidemic of mass psychogenic illness and an outbreak of scapegoating," writes Lynley Hood. The 672 pages of this meticulously researched book follow this framework to show what went wrong in the most notorious day care case in New Zealand.

In the early 90s, Peter Ellis, an openly gay teacher at the Civic Creche in Christchurch, was accused of abusing children in all manner of fantastical ways. Hood writes:

"When I began this project, the key question underpinning my research was this: to what extent were the staff of the Christchurch Civic Child Care Center involved in child sexual abuse? I expected, sooner or later, to uncover some real-life happenings on which, rightly or wrongly, the allegations of criminality were based. But, in my years of dredging through the mire in which this story has foundered, I found no evidence of illegality by anyone accused in this case. Instead, I found convincing evidence that more than 100 Christchurch children had been subject to unpleasant and psychologically hazardous procedures for no good reason, and that a group of capable and caring adults with no inclinations towards sexual misconduct with children had had their lives ruined as a result." p.33

This fascinating and important book covers 30 years of New Zealand social history to explain the travesty of justice in the Ellis trial. Factors such as the merger in the early 1980s of feminism, religious conservatism and the child protection movement; changes in laws; the handing out of up to $10,000 to people who said but didn't have to prove that they had been sexually abused; and visits by therapists from the United States all played a role in what happened.

A City Possessed is available directly from the publisher.