Posted by David Gledhill on Aug 08, 2019
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." ~ Edmund Burke and quoted by J.F. Kennedy
Please imagine that there has just been a violent bank robbery in Lower Hutt.
Fortunately, there was a witness. Unfortunately, that witness states he clearly saw you commit the robbery. More unfortunately you had been in the Hutt at that time. He gives a graphic and convincing account of what he witnessed and how he clearly identified you when your mask slipped a bit.
His statement adds he then clearly saw you run out of the door with your loot, hop into a waiting flying saucer and zoom off towards Australia.
The judge decrees that the last part of the statement should not be put to the jury.
You are found guilty. Welcome to Paremoremo.
Impossible? Implausible? But it happened in New Zealand.
This story begins with Mathew Hopkins, passes through Salem to the Orkneys, involves a 1950s film, comes to Christchurch N.Z. and I sincerely hope will end in Wellington soon.
Mathew Hopkins was the "Witchfinder General" for the Church in Puritan England. He identified, accused, and caused to be hanged several women. In Salem Massachusetts the "Witches of Salem" met a similar fate at the hands of very devout churchmen. The accusers found the witches guilty. Doubtless many good men were unconvinced but did nothing. In the 1980s there were reports, by fundamental Christians, of devil worshipping cults and sexual abuse in the Orkney Islands.
When charges were laid and proved in court of infanticide and satanic practices several of those allegedly involved were incarcerated.
A 1950s film, "The Search for Bridey Murphy", told the true story of how an apparently normal American women was hypnotised and revealed a repressed memory of childhood. Through a process of regression, the hypnotist took her back to her birth, and "before that".  She suddenly developed an Irish accent and gave a graphic account of life in Dublin in the 1870s. She gave a surprising amount of detail of life, street names and shop names even though she had never been to Dublin in her 20thC persona. This was taken as evidence for reincarnation.
Denouement came in the Orkneys when the charges were seen to be the result of a sort of collective hysteria and the convictions were squashed, prison sentences cancelled. Bridey Murphy's case still worried many, but research found that other people under hypnosis could be led to state convincingly that they were from Mars or Jupiter etc.
The power of suggestion can be enormously strong and in certain circumstances can be dangerous.
In Christchurch in the 1980s there were many concerns among fundamentalist Christians about rumours of satanic practices. (There had been recent publicity about such things in parts of USA.). In 1991 a 3-year-old complained to his mother about not liking Peter Ellis, a worker at the Civic Creche. The police investigated but could find no evidence at first. But rumour spread around other mothers. Peter Ellis was suspended, and the children were interviewed by counsellors, repeatedly, over months as they "tried to get to the bottom of the business".
Children began to admit certain things, Peter had told them off, he had touched them etc. As the interviews continued the stories got worse - they were dropped through a trapdoor into a maze. They were placed in ovens and all the staff pretended to eat them. They were hung up in cages.
Four more workers were charged, but soon the charges against them were dropped. Peter Ellis was charged with 45 cases, later reduced to 25. The children's accounts of how he had handled them were admitted as evidence, but the accounts of trap doors, golden rain and cages were deemed inadmissible. He was found guilty of 16 of the charges. Some years later one of the children admitted she had made up her stories "to please her mother". The Court of Appeal squashed three of the convictions. His lawyer appealed. The Appeal failed.
Peter's lawyer wanted to take the case to the Privy Council in England, but this would require legal aid. Legal aid was refused.
Peter, now 61, is dying. His lawyer is appealing on the grounds that new evidence, from an Otago University Project Innocence on the credibility of young children's evidence is throwing doubt on the strength of the case against him.
Watch this space.