The Christchurch Civic Crèche Case

A City Possessed - by Lynley Hood - Index

A City Possessed - Reviews


January 2002

A City Possessed
Book Review by Michael Morrissey

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

Lynley Hood, an accomplished biographer, has focused her considerable talents on the highly controversial Peter Ellis case. This is a remarkably thorough book which may succeed in prompting an eventual clearance of Ellis's name - a vindication which many believe is overdue.

Ellis was a child care worker at the Christchurch Civic Creche accused of numerous sexual and sadistic offences against small children many of them bizarre eg forcing children to drink his urine or eat his faeces, inserting sandwiches up a child's rectum. Hundreds of children were believed to be involved. Hood believes that the implausible extent of these offences made this case like the witch hunting craze. As she wittily writes, the allegations "spread with the speed and virulancy of a sociogenic Ebola virus."

Hood expertly and lucidly shows how the 80s gave rise to the Sexual Abuse Specialist not unlike witch hunters of earlier times and how changes in New Zealand law made it easier to convict sex (or supposed) sex offenders. The growth of the sexual hysteria industry was accompanied by false statistics such as the well known claim by Miriam Saphira that one in four girls would be the object of sexual abuse by their fathers, a misinterpretation of a figure reported by Kinsey (Kinsey's figures actually showed a ratio of 1 in 300).

The ironic and sad thing is that prior to the outburst of accusation, Ellis was extremely popular with the children even though some of his horseplay was considered overly boisterous by adults eg hanging a child on the picket fence by their overalls. However, the children liked it. Since Ellis was never seen committing any sexual or sadistic acts evidence was largely derived from interrogations of small children often with leading questions, a method subsequently demonstrated to be fraught with peril. The Sexual Abuse Specialist complete with nonsensical Recovered Memories have been copy-catted from the USA. Now the Americans are recanting it is time we did the same. This book - with its highly critical views on Sir Thomas Eichelbaum's quashing of the review of the Ellis case - is part of a hopeful return to legal as well as sexual and ethical sanity.