The Christchurch Civic Crèche Case

A City Possessed - by Lynley Hood - Index

A City Possessed - Reviews


May 31, 2002

A City Possessed
Book Review by Sarah Putt

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

Author Lynley Hood describes writing this investigation into the conviction of childcare worker Peter Ellis as the literary equivalent of a solo crossing of Antarctica. And after reading the 600 or so pages of carefully researched, thoroughly argued points I can quite believe it.

 Proclaiming the innocence of a man that has been convicted in a jury trial, been rejected by the Court of Appeal twice and been the subject of three judicial petitions, one would need to have the facts clear.

 But Hood's claim that the justice system has failed to act thoroughly and dispassionately is quite ringing. Not only judges but police, social workers, psychologists - in other words the professionals that stand between us and anarchy - all have their motives and abilities examined and are found wanting.

 Hood compares the conviction of Peter Ellis and the subsequent arrest of his four women colleagues (who were later discharged) to the Witch-hunts that swept through Europe and England in the 16th and 17th centuries.

 While careful to point out that child sexual abuse does occur and that it is damaging, Hood argues that it has never been as prevalent as those in the 'sexual abuse industry' would have us believe. ACC, for example, routinely awarded lump sum payments to alleged victims of abuse - claims that only had to be made, never proven. In the Creche case, although 18 families laid complaints, forty received payments of $10,000.

 Hood examines the qualifications, personalities and experience of all those involved in the case. As for Ellis himself, he is portrayed as a flamboyant, creative, enthusiastic child-care worker who, because he was eccentric, made himself vulnerable to accusations.

 It took just one comment from a small child to set off the episode of mass hysteria that was the Christchurch Civic Creche Case. As Hood explains, "The first complaint had only just been laid, but, like a careless match tossed into the tinder-dry landscape of a Canterbury summer, it set off an inferno".

 Of the 118 children who were interviewed by sexual abuse experts only six children have complaints that still remain in support of a conviction. This seems a small number in what was alleged at the time to be a huge conspiracy of child sexual abuse and satanic ritual.

 Hood backgrounds the Creche case by documenting the rise in moral panic around child sexual abuse in the 1980's and early 1990s. She then charts the major events that led to the conviction of Ellis and the subsequent failure to prove his innocence.

 A City Possessed is a brave book, a wise book and while it should be required reading for police, lawyers and social workers, it is important for ordinary, everyday citizens too. It makes for fascinating, if somewhat disquieting, reading