The Christchurch Civic Crèche Case

Law Reform Index

Law of Evidence - Section 23G

The Press
June 1 2002

Lynley Hood, author
by Martin Van Beynen

Having her book, A City Possessed, read and acclaimed is very nice, says Dunedin author Lynley Hood, but what about a debate on the issues it raises?  Martin Van Beynen talks to her about writing, wrongs, and the Christchurch Civic Creche case.


A finalist in this year's Montana Book Awards, Lynley Hood, who spent seven years researching and writing her acclaimed book, A City Possessed, says it's difficult getting a response from anybody challenged by the often searing criticism in it.

One who refuses to engage in the debate is Justice Minister Phil Goff, who, despite initiating a ministerial inquiry upholding creche worker Peter Ellis' sex-abuse convictions, now constantly fields questions about whether he has read the book.

He hasn't, but has received an appraisal from a Ministry of Justice official that is also awaiting his attention.

Meantime, he has to put up with cheeky constituents sending him a poem penned by Hood's son David called If Dr Seuss were Minister of Justice (see far left). "Nobody who has read the book has challenged me on anything I have said," Hood says.

"It just shows you what cowards these bullies are. They are holding the country to ransom, and they won't come out and debate the issues. Not a peep from the Commissioner for Children (Roger McClay), who would jump up and down at the first mention of Peter Ellis' innocence, or Greg O'Connor (Police Association head), or any of the usual suspects. It must mean they have no answers."

Hood is not surprised by Goff's reaction, and condemns what she calls his "extraordinary closemindedness".

"The fact that Phil Goff's refusal to address the issues raised in A City Possessed is making himself and the Government look ridiculous doesn't bother me, but the fact that his head-in- the-sand attitude is making the justice system look ridiculous is in my view unforgivable.

"The debate about the case, which has been re-ignited by the book, won't be going away," she says.

"The ramifications go far beyond the creche case. ACC-funded therapists use counselling techniques that are known to encourage false memories of sexual abuse; CYFS interviewers use investigative techniques that cannot distinguish between true and false allegations of sexual abuse; laws relating to children's evidence make it easy for juries to convict on unreliable evidence; the Court of Appeal is unable to correct its own mistakes. These issues have to be faced up to sooner or later."

A testy response from Mr Goff's advisers on mention of the book comes as no surprise.

A spokesman says the campaign to get Mr Goff to act on the book has been wearing and often irrational. The book was not a legal document, and if it was so compelling why had Ellis' counsel, Judith Ablett-Kerr, QC, not made another application for a pardon from the Governor-General?

That is a good point, but it's clear if Mr Goff felt inclined to take further action because of the book he could. It would require an admission the Eichelbaum inquiry, which he initiated, was unsound, and that concession appears unlikely.

Hood, however, is not taking no as the final word on the matter, and is happy to respond to letters, take up speaking engagements, and play her part in the battle for "hearts and minds".

She appears to be enjoying it, in fact, as she takes a year's sabbatical before embarking on another project. Every day her mail is overflowing with kind remarks about the book, outrage at the way the case was handled, and expressions of support for change. She has had positive letters from victims of abuse, and from people who say the book has knocked colleagues and friends out of their certainties about the case.

"There was a time not so long ago when I thought I would get old and die before the book was published. My best-case scenario was that I would publish it myself, and the hostility I encountered as I was writing it would increase a thousand fold, and I would spend the rest of my life under siege, but that hasn't happened at all. It's been a breeze, compared to what it was like when I was writing it. It's been good."

Although her previous books, including Sylvia: the Biography of Sylvia Ashton-Warner, which won the 1989 Goodman Fielder Wattie Award, and Millie Dean: Her Life and Crimes, were able to "stand and walk" from birth, she is not quite ready to abandon A City Possessed to its own devices, she says.

Christchurch people have given the book a warm reception, although the city has the distinction of generating her one and only abusive letter so far.

City libraries have 60 copies of the book, of which 57 are available for loan. About 150 people are now on the waiting list, which has at times stretched to 200 people.

Hood believes a commission of inquiry into the case, along the lines of a truth and reconciliation model, should be instituted.

"God help us, we don't want a witchhunt back in the other direction, and we have to accept a commission of inquiry won't fix anything really. There are obvious law changes that can be done without an inquiry.

"But everyone has to give an account of what they did and why. It's just got to have an airing so people can move on.

"And the trade-off for people who have been damaged by the process is the story gets out there, but they can't expect squillions of dollars in compensation. But we have to face up to the damage we have done to innocent people."

She is sounding like a campaigner, but claims all she is is an advocate for a "credible justice system".

"All I'm doing is encouraging people to think for themselves. It's their initiative. I feel as if I've done my bit by writing the book ..."

Her talks and, of course, the book are having an effect, she says, even if the Government looks the other way.

"It is having an effect in the courts. 23G (a section allowing prosecutors to call expert evidence that a complainant's behaviour is consistent with children who have been sexually abused) is being used less and less."

Other readers have been people interested in filming the book.

While negotiations continue, Hood and many others will maintain the pressure to get Mr Goff to say: Thank you, thank you Lynley Hood, Read your book I should, I should.

You can hear Lynley Hood in conversation with Cynthia Hawes at the Great Hall, Arts Centre, June 3, 11-noon, $2, door sales only.


If Dr Seuss were Minister of Justice
by David Hood

I will not read that book by Hood
I will not, will not, say it's good
I will just say the courts are right
I do not want to see the light
I will not read about that case
I am so scared of losing face
I will not read it fast or slow
I want to keep the status quo
I will not read it, so I say
I wish that book would go away
I will not read that woman's book
I will not even take a look
I will not read it, not a bit
In case I have to act on it.


CAPTION: PHOTO: Otago Daily Times

Lynley Hood: "All I'm doing is encouraging people to think for themselves. I feel as if I've done my bit by writing the book ..."