Lynley Hood's long-awaited
potboiler account of the
A City Possessed reviews the extraordinary saga of the allegations of ritual sexual abuse in respect of Peter Ellis and four other childcare workers. It is a hard-hitting and fascinating analysis of the many influences that she contends contributed to the moral panic which gave rise to the charges.
Her arguments fall squarely within a well recognised history of such crises, which date back at least to 16th and 17th century witchhunts. More controversial are her analyses of the role of experts, child protection workers, police, homophobes and lesbians, in the evolution of allegations particularly against Peter Ellis, the childcare worker at the centre of the case.
Lynley Hood was granted
unparalleled access to players in the
Lynley Hood has strong
views about the case and found herself and her manuscript overtaken by the
legal proceedings, having tapes of interviews that she had conducted
subpoenaed to the Court of Appeal in the 1999 appeal for the proceedings that
immediately preceded Ellis' release upon completion of his sentence in
February 2000. She believes passionately that the history of the case
reflects poorly upon the New Zealand administration of justice and concludes
the book with the contention that the 2000 Eichelbaum Report into the case
"will serve only to bring a commission of inquiry into the
Whether or not one
accepts Ms Hood's final contention, that Ellis was scapegoated by wellmeaning
but obsessed crusaders, her account of the Christchurch Civic Creche saga
constitutes an internationally important record of an extraordinary and frightening
A City Possessed is a landmark work. The author has brought to her task strong views and occasionally lapses infelicitously into sarcasm and parody. However, she emerges not as an advocate for Peter Ellis but as a concerned historian with an extraordinary challenge to the criminal justice system. Whether one agrees with her or is satisfied with the decisions of a jury, eight Judges of the Court of Appeal and a Ministerial Inquiry, chaired by a former Chief Justice of New Zealand, the issues she raises are confronting, worrying and demand a considered response.
A City Possessed is well written, excellently edited and professionally presented. It walks the difficult line between a scholarly work and a book that is engaging and accessible. Ultimately, it does so successfully, entertaining, provoking and chronicling an extraordinary legal and social saga which is deserving of the kind of in-depth treatment given to it by Lynley Hood. Her analysis of the Christchurch Civic Creche saga will prove controversial. It deserves to be read by all who are concerned with the potential for injustice, and with the way our communities should deal with emotive and disturbing accounts of misconduct by adults against children.
Graphic: Peter Ellis