IPT Book Reviews

Title: Coals of Fire
Author: Don Nicholds
Publisher: Don Nicholds, 1994

Don Nicholds
PO Box 202
Ashmore City 4214
Queensland, Australia

This privately published book of 214 pages is the story of a 59-year-old Australian minister who was convicted of child molestation in 1988. He maintains it was a wrongful conviction and this is his account of how an innocent man can be convicted of crimes not committed. He spent three years in prison and the account includes descriptions of events in prison and the attitude of prisoners toward a convicted child molester. He also tells how prisoners and guards can come to a conclusion that a prisoner is, indeed, not guilty and what then changes in the behaviors toward the innocent prisoner.

This account of a wrongful conviction contains all the elements found in the stories of thousands of U.S. prisoners who assert their innocence and charge they have been wrongfully convicted. The most powerful influences are police who manufacture evidence and mercilessly interrogate a person who is shocked and confused by an accusation of sexually abusing young children. The impact of a mental health professional who has formed a premature conclusion is also evident. Then comes the readiness of fact finders to grant credibility to contradictory and impossible accounts by children and the willingness of prosecutors to use such testimony. Exculpatory evidence is ignored. Underlying all of this is the societal perceptions of child sexual abuse shaped and molded by media accounts and the repetition of the unfounded dogmas exported from the United States to around the world.

What is also of interest to U.S. readers is the demonstration that the system works the same way in other countries as it works here. The same kind of accounts with the same behaviors producing false allegations are found in England, Canada, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Germany, and New Zealand. These countries include justice systems using juries and the Napoleonic inquisitorial systems. There is no difference in the process of building a false allegation and wrongfully convicting innocent people. Around the world, our systems of justice are the structures we have deliberately created to embody the finest ideals of fairness and equity of which we are capable. It is sobering to observe that none are a sufficient bulwark against inequity and unfairness.

A crucial truth is revealed by this observation. The problem is a systemic one, not a matter of individual error or corruption or greed. When the identical factors, the same regular progression, and the predictable outcomes are evident across countries, cultures, justice systems, and diverse individuals, it can be nothing other than the flaws built into the system that generate such injustice. For U.S. citizens, acquainted with the child sexual abuse system we have established, reading this book will be both a familiar exercise and a clarifying experience as to where the problem lies — in the nature of our humanity. It is a reminder that the principal cause of human misery and anguish is not some cosmic, satanic force but simple human stupidity.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.

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