CCHR’s Work Acknowledged in NZ Inquiry into Lake Alice Psychiatric Child Torture as “An Extraordinary Effort,” Supporting Survivors for 45 Years

Mike Ferriss, Director CCHR New Zealand

After weeks of testimony from former Lake Alice patients being electroshocked without an aesthetic
as punishment, knocked unconscious with the violence of the shock, then being raped, some
“solace” from being heard has been be found,
CCHR says, “but not yet justice.”

By Jan Eastgate
President CCHR International
The Mental Health Industry Watchdog
July 1, 2021

A two-week New Zealand government Royal Commission public inquiry into the psychiatric electroshock torture of children at Lake Alice hospital completed on June 28, with the survivors acknowledged for their bravery in speaking out and with apologies from the state for the pain they endured, when it failed for decades to act on their cries for help. The inquiry has investigated the child torture at the hands of psychiatrist, Selwyn Leeks, who administered electroshock without anesthetic to more than 300 children’s brains, heads, arms, and/or their genitals in the 1970s. The Citizens Commission on Human Rights in NZ, who had the torture chamber shut down and demanded justice for the survivors ever since, was especially singled out by the Royal Commission chair, Judge Coral Shaw, for its “extraordinary efforts that it has gone to since the 70s to keep this flame alive on behalf of the survivors. It’s been an extraordinary effort.”

For over 45 years, CCHR helped instigate numerous actions and inquiries into the abuses, but when these still failed the victims, it took the matter to the United Nations in 2019, which forced the government to act. The Royal Commission emerged from that. Mr. Mike Ferriss, the director of the CCHR NZ chapter, told the Commission that at first, “We were seen as the mosquito in the tent, but then with a UN decision behind us in 2020, the government then had a lion in the tent. They had to do something.” (Read CCHR’s full closing comments.)

Judge Shaw praised CCHR stating: “I think it’s important that the Commission acknowledges CCHR and the extraordinary efforts that it has gone to since the 70s to keep this flame alive on behalf of the survivors. It’s been an extraordinary effort.” 

Further,I think it’s very, very important that your presence has made a big difference to this hearing and we acknowledge that, and thank you…for your immense hard work. Thank you so much.”

Mr. Ferriss thanked for Royal Commission for their compassion during the hearing—the evidence was tough to hear.

To the survivors, Mr. Ferriss said: “This Royal Commission is your vindication, the recognition that you were right, that you were punished, that you were tortured, that you were mercilessly drugged and raped. It was never your imagination. It was never because there was something ‘wrong’ with you. It was never deserved. It should never have happened.

“That the system failed you, is without question. That mental health professionals, staff and agencies failed and even harmed you, is also beyond doubt. The worst culprit—the psychiatrist Selwyn Leeks—has finally been exposed as a torturer. That may provide some solace, but… not yet justice.”

On behalf of the Lake Alice survivors, Leonie McInroe, also acknowledged CCHR’s help: “I would like to extend grateful acknowledgement to the enduring support and work of CCHR, your commitment to supporting our claims, and raising important issues on our behalf for over 40 years has proved to be a solid rock for many to lean on. Thank you.”

In his closing remarks to the Commission, Mr. Ferriss ominously stated: “During this hearing, we could all be forgiven if we had the thought, for a moment, that we were sitting in the Nuremberg Medical Crime Trials of 1946, and not the Royal Commission Inquiry into Abuse in Care in New Zealand in 2021.”

The children’s allegations were brought to CCHR’s attention in 1976 when CCHR conducted an inspection of the facility and was one of only two groups to listen and believe their stories of horror. “I felt there was an over-riding atmosphere of helplessness in this place,” Bruce Gibson, part of the CCHR inspection team, told the hearing of that visit.[1]

CCHR obtained a Magisterial hearing in 1977 but, while the torture chamber at Lake Alice was shut down, the perpetrator, Dr. Leeks handed in his medical license to the NZ Medical Council and set up practice in Australia as a child psychiatrist at a child-guidance clinic. Astoundingly, in 1986, he also worked as a part-time psychiatrist at the Children’s Court outpatients’ clinic.[2]

This, while the evidence had mounted from Lake Alice that children—some as young as five—had been repeatedly assaulted.

  • Electroshocks were given to the head of a ten-year-old boy while fully awake and then moved down his jaw line.
  • Electrodes were placed on the genitals and a current applied—an act of torture, whether a Gestapo officer or a psychiatrist is doing it.
  • Paul Zentveld, who worked with CCHR for years in the search for justice, said he was given electroshock “to the head, on the knee, and then on the groin, and then on the testicles.”[3]
  • A one former child patient accused Leeks of “electrocuting ” children.[4] This was supported by more evidence from “A.A.,” who said, “The pain was slow at the start. ECT was a quick intense pain with everything flashing. I got a very tight cramp and that is why the nurses had to hold me down. I can’t really explain the pain, it was how you would expect to feel if you were getting electrocuted on the head.”[5]
  • Physical and sexual abuse was common, including the rape of patients and sodomizing young boys after they were knocked unconscious from the violence of the electroshock.
  • Boys were given painful injections of paraldehyde in their bottoms, which meant they couldn’t sit down.[6]

The children that were sent to Lake Alice had been placed in foster care or were subject to guardianship orders. They were electroshocked as punishment for not eating their vegetables, bed-wetting, pillow fights, running away from the torture, not talking during group therapy sessions, and smoking.[7] Perceived “bad behavior” was diagnosed as psychiatric illness, justifying the torture.[8]

When Leeks was questioned by police in 1977, he told them that the “treatment” was necessary because the children were “feral and psychotic and were future murderers and thieves.”[9] And, so, there the matter laid to rest, except for CCHR and another group, ACORD [Auckland Committee on Racism and Discrimination], with whom it worked. “Lake Alice was never going to go away. Ill-treatment and torture of children cannot be ignored and deemed not in the public interest to prosecute,” Mr. Ferriss said.

Aaron Smale, a researcher and award-winning journalist, wrote: “They were children, who had been removed by the state from their families. The state had a duty of care and it utterly failed them, so that’s the significance of this hearing.” Further, “If I inflicted that kind of torture and abuse on my children I’d be in jail and yet for years nobody has been held accountable.”[10]

Mr. Ferriss called on the Commission to ensure that Dr. Leeks—despite his age—and “all those who assisted him are recommended for prosecution. Ensure the system is made accountable. And please ensure that the victims get the true vindication that they deserve: commensurate compensation for the crimes committed against them and the decades of cover up that exacerbated their pain and trauma. Real redress for the harm that has been done must include real rehabilitation and recompense. Then, true healing for them can occur.”

Other CCHR recommendations included:

  • Electroshock be banned under the NZ Mental Health Act.
  • Amend the regulations for both the Medical Council and Psychologists Board to mandate they refer complaints of a mental health practitioner’s sexual abuse of a child or adult patient to the police.
  • Instill criminal penalties should a psychiatrist, psychologist or psychotherapist fail to report an incident of a fellow practitioner sexually abusing a patient. (Similar laws exist in the U.S. with penalties up to nine months in jail and/or a $10,000 fine.)
  • Similar accountability to be enacted to protect children by mandating a requirement for an employee, worker, healthcare professional, including psychiatrists, psychologists, doctors, social workers, therapists, nurses, etc. to report any observed incident of child abuse by any of the above in a psychiatric, behavioral or other child institution.
  • Whistleblower protections enforced or reinforced for those reporting.
  • The NZ Crimes of Torture Act be amended, as needed, to ensure the police can easily prosecute mental health practices that are coercive, inhuman, degrading and torture.

Mr. Ferriss pointed out: “When the legal process allows a practitioner to treat a person without consent, then the psychiatrist is allowed to electroshock people and administer drugs and call it therapeutic. Thus, it makes it difficult for police to define ill-treatment and ill-intent…. Police and all agencies must dispense with the idea that because a person has sat in front of a psychiatrist, that the patient is unstable, incompetent and should never be believed.” This must change.

He was critical of the fact that no one from the psychiatric professional body apparently attended the hearing. “Given that Dr. Selwyn Leeks was widely accepted within the psychiatric profession and even held in high esteem is outrageous….The silence of the psychiatric body at this hearing is deafening. They do not want a line drawn across their ‘legal right’ to treat people against their will even in this most egregious case of abuse.”

“The failure to address Lake Alice patient concerns for nearly half a century shows the stakes for failing to report child abuse must be made much higher—i.e., criminal penalties for failing to do so,” he summated.

Such comments are not likely to curry favor from NZ or Australian psychiatrists—something CCHR is familiar with, having to fight their complacency over not only the Lake Alice abuses but also atrocities committed at Chelmsford private psychiatric hospital in New South Wales, Australia, in the 60s and 70s, when 48 people died as a result of a drug and electroshock practice called deep sleep treatment. In both cases, it was left to CCHR to protect patients where the profession failed.

Judge Shaw also recognized this, commenting to CCHR: “I have seen from the documents that you have been vilified, rejected, treated as outsiders, and in spite of all that, you have maintained steadfastly the desire to see justice done. And so, I think we are privileged that you have taken this opportunity to come, address us, provide us with the evidence, and also to support Mr. Zentveld [Lake Alice survivor] and others, who have been here all along.”

Solicitor-General Una Jagose yesterday gave evidence and acknowledged the courage of survivors. “Along with many other survivors you will forever be associated with the courage and persistence you have shown in your long fight against the behemoth that is the state and its bureaucracy,” Jagose said.[11]

Lake Alice: A Legacy of Eugenics

Part of that should be about how the Māori were especially targeted at Lake Alice—symptomatic of eugenics, where anyone of color, including African Americans and indigenous peoples such as Australian aborigines and American Indians, were psychologically determined to be “inferior.” Corazon Miller from 1 News, reported: “The vast majority of children taken into care in the 20th century were Māori—a cost that became apparent at this month’s Royal Commission of Inquiry.”[12]

Nearly half of the children in NZ state homes in the 1970s, including Lake Alice, were of Māori background and, in some institutions, they comprised 80 percent.[13]

“Diagnosing” them with psychiatric “disorders” often justified their incarceration. The Lake Alice survivor, Donald Ku, described how as a young boy he was labelled as having “marked retardation.” “I hate reading that and seeing that in my notes. I don’t think I was retarded at all; I was just a young boy struggling with being brought up in a hard environment,” he said. As his mother moved away from home, things began to change. And by the time he was seven, he was in foster care. He ended up in Lake Alice where, he was sexually abused and was administered electroshock treatment as punishment, Miller reported. “Where I really belonged was with my mum and dad – with my whānau. When I was removed from that environment, they took me away from my Māori culture. I wish they had given me to my grandmother. I think my life would have been different if they had.”[14]

It’s an aspect of the history behind Lake Alice that CCHR’s Task Force Against Racism and Modern-Day Eugenics is further investigating.

A veteran social work practitioner and advocate says institutions like Lake Alice were places which tried to take the Māori out of children. Paora Crawford Moyle, who is studying abuse in care for her PhD thesis, says many Māori boys were sent there not because they were breaking the law but because of behavioral issues, as seen through a white supremacist lens. “You’ve got to be more white. You’ve got to be more like us. And because you’re not, we’re going to pick you up and give you behavioral therapy. We’re going to train you into the kind of citizen we think you should be. Trying to take the Māori out of the child, you take the child out of the Māori? That’s archaic, and we are now reaping as a nation the cost of that,” she said.[15]

David Cohen in an article for Radio New Zealand, noted the idea for the “treatment” was “for it to be administered with no sympathy for the children. As one staff Department of Social Welfare training manual of the 1970s put it, sympathy only ‘emphasizes their unworthiness and depresses them even more.’”[16]

The Royal Commission will receive redress submissions from the Crown that will collect responses from various government agencies that need to be held to account for ensuring another Lake Alice could ever happen again.

CCHR will continue to fight for the survivors to receive appropriate compensation and for full justice to be served. It will continue to expose psychiatric abuses that remain prevalent even today, and the impact of psychiatric racism on indigenous peoples.


[1] Rachel Moore, “Church of Scientology has been investigating Lake Alice for almost half a century,” Stuff NZ, 17 June 2021,

[2] Phillip Hickey, Ph.D., “Torture at Lake Alice ‘Hospital,’ New Zealand,” Behaviorism and Mental Health, 2 Mar. 2021,; “Psychiatrist under scrutiny again,” The Age, 18 April 2004,

[3]  Michael Morror, “Lake Alice abuse: Police’s formal apology for major failings ‘means nothing’ – survivor,” Newshub, 24 June 2021,

[4] Jimmy Ellingham, “Boy thrown in with adults at Lake Alice sexually abused on first night,” Stuff NZ, 15 June 2021,

[5] “Lake Alice and Abuse in Care inquiry: ‘I had no idea why I’d been shocked,’” New Zealand Herald, 22 June 2021,

[6] Aaron Smale, “Housemaster called police to report Lake Alice abusers but they continued to work in children’s homes,” Stuff NZ, 15 June 2021,

[7] Jimmy Ellingham, “Tortured boy turned to crime as he sought revenge for his ordeal,” Stuff NZ, 16 June 2021,; Jimmy Ellington, “Lake Alice electric shock treatment ‘pure pain’, survivor recalls,” Stuff NZ, 22 June 2021,; Andrew McCrea, “Lake Alice ECT abuse: Calls for Dr Selwyn Leeks to face justice,” Radio New Zealand, 16 June 2021,; Phillip Hickey, Ph.D., “Torture at Lake Alice ‘Hospital,’ New Zealand,” Behaviorism and Mental Health, 2 Mar. 2021,

[8] Andrew McRae, “Lake Alice abuse inquiry: Clinical psychologist presents to Royal Commission” New Zealand Herald, 27 June 2021,

[9] “Psychiatrist under scrutiny again,” The Age, 18 April 2004,

[10] Corazon Miller, “Those who suffered as children at Manawatu psychiatric hospital to share their stories.” 1 News, 13 June 2021,

[11] “Inquiry into Lake Alice abuse concludes,” The Spinoff, 29 June 2021,

[12] Corazon Miller, “Lake Alice and the legacy of abuse in state care on Māori,” 1 News, 29 June 2021,

[13] “Triggering a public inquiry into historic abuse in state care — the New Zealand story,” Child Rights International Network, 16 Aug. 2018,; Corazon Miller,Lake Alice and the legacy of abuse in state care on Māori,” 1 News, 29 June 2021,

[14] Corazon Miller, “Lake Alice and the legacy of abuse in state care on Māori,” 1 News, 29 June 2021,

[15] Paora Crawford Moyle, “Nation reaping cost of Lake Alice abuse,” Waatea, 29 June 2021,

[16] David Cohen, “Lake Alice evidence recalls ghosts that made a mess of human lives,” Radio NZ, 1 July 2021,