CCHR Closing Comments: Royal Commission on Inquiry into State Abuse Lake Alice Child and Adolescent Unit Hearing

27 June 2021

The Citizens Commission on Human Rights want to thank all the survivors of Lake Alice’s child and adolescent psychiatric unit for their bravery in speaking out.  For letting the people of New Zealand, and the world, know of the horrors you endured at Lake Alice.  A small portion were represented at this hearing but we would like to thank all of the survivors and to all those who have been lost to us.

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.

Since the Royal Commission started, CCHR New Zealand has received an international outpouring of support from groups and individuals who pay tribute to your courage. From Australia, England and Germany to the United States, to name but a few.

CCHR also thanks the Commissioners, the legal team, the researchers and staff for your work and the real willingness to listen to the stories of the survivors and to show the compassion that you have. You have also validated our work for which we thank you very much.

This Royal Commission has enabled us for the first time in nearly fifty years to understand what happened at Lake Alice and the subsequent shocking cover-ups and denials by State and mental health agencies. A lot of the information that has been brought to light has been revealling and has confirmed that what we thought was atrocious was, but even more so.

CCHR also thanks the United Nations Committee Against Torture who recognised that imprisoning children in the conditions of Lake Alice and forcing electroshock and drugs upon them were, indeed, acts of torture.  It is a recognition that we hope the health ministry and government will reinforce in the future, especially under the proposed changes to the Mental Health Act.

Also, thanks are extended to Tom Fitzgerald and his police team doing the new police investigation. This is not an easy case to grapple with—this we know all too well. There is a lot of trust been placed in you to do the right thing, so we are grateful to have you on the job.

A special thanks to Oliver Sutherland, Ross Galbreath and members of ACORD [Auckland Committee on Racism and Discrimination]. You were right there with us trying to pry open the Lake Alice can of worms. Judge Mitchell was being hoodwinked by psychiatric mumbo jumbo at the Magistrates Inquiry [in the 70s] and we knew it. It took 45 more years to really open that can.

And what do we see? Strip away the psychiatric terminology and you see children being tortured in the guise of treatment.

Another special thanks goes to Paul Zentveld [Lake Alice survivor] for your tenacity and tireless efforts to get this exposed. It is a real pleasure to work alongside you. Few people can wear the label “legend,” but you can.

We point out that in 45 years no-one has stepped up to say they were helped at the Lake Alice children’s unit. Not one.

I am not aware of anyone from the psychiatric profession or their professional body attending this hearing. Given that Dr Selwyn Leeks was widely accepted within the psychiatric profession and even held in high esteem is outrageous.

Perhaps we should not be too surprised when we read in the recently unearthed psychiatric opinion by Dr D. G. McLachlan in December 1977 for the New Zealand police.

Dr. McLachlan, who had recently held the position of Director of Psychiatric Services, Wellington Hospital Board, was able to sway the police away from a prosecution. He was a proponent of unmodified ECT and, thus, he not only went in to bat for Dr. Leeks, he endorsed his use of an ECT machine to children’s body parts and made excuses for his use of unmodified ECT to their heads. To MacLachlan, it did not matter there was no consent for this treatment. All of his colleagues—he believed—disagreed with the Ombudsman’s views on ECT without consent as being an assault because he had “so many misconceptions on psychiatric work.”

In the Auckland Medico-Legal Society publication of 1978, its president, psychiatrist, Dr. Culpan did not want a comprehensive consent process concerning

psychiatric treatment, especially for Electro Convulsive Treatment, which was becoming an issue in light of the Lake Alice cases.

Certainly, the rights of psychiatric patients were virtually unheard of until CCHR and ACORD came along exposing electric shocking of children at Lake Alice.

Is it any wonder, then, that the psychiatric profession circled their wagons at this time to fight off the marauding activists for human rights? And so it was that we were made the problem, not the shocking, torture and abuse that Dr. Leeks and some of the Lake Alice staff had committed.

This was 1977, the year of New Zealand’s first Telethon, which raised $3 million for mental health and the establishment of the Mental Health Foundation. I believe the psychiatrists did not want their profession denigrated with allegations of ill-treatment and abuse of children at the time of their big public relations campaign. They still do not want this today, even when it isn’t only, we saying psychiatric treatment without consent constitutes punishment and torture.

Dr. McLachlan’s report for the police shows how he and Dr. Leeks, and Mr. C James of Rainey, Collins, Armour and Brooch, solicitor for the Medical Defence Union, were at the Penal Cases Committee of the Medical Council on 23 November 1977 hearing, along with Medical Council staff. They faced a 19-year-old young man who was still dealing with his Lake Alice ordeal and trauma. The charges against Dr. Leeks of improper use of an ECT machine were dismissed. This was the case where he had four or five boys shock another boy, and the problem behind the complaint was that it had been prompted by another person, who we understand was Victor Boyd from CCHR.

From the young man’s point of view, the hearing did not deal with the facts of the case and he felt there was a cover-up. He also felt betrayed that Dr. Leeks turned up because he was intensely afraid of him, and he agreed to attend the hearing only if Dr. Leeks would not.

It is important that this is pointed out to the Commission, because rather than investigate the practice of Dr. Leeks, like the Magistrates Inquiry, the Medical Council was misdirected to the problem being “outside pressure,” as Dr. McLachlan put it. It certainly appears that Dr. McLachlan was there to support Dr. Leeks at the hearing.

Dr. McLachlan was in no way independent nor objective when he supplied his opinion to the police in 1977.

Throughout this Lake Alice saga, there have been similar scenarios played out with the Medical Council and the police. The survivors of Lake Alice Children’s Unit were not believed, really, until now.

They had no rights.

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.

As we have heard throughout this hearing, the children were subjected to ill-treatment. Electroshocks to the head of a ten-year-old boy while fully awake and then moving them down his jaw line is torture, not treatment.

If anyone was unsure what child torture might be, they weren’t after listening to the testimonies provided to the Royal Commission in this hearing.

Placing electrodes on the genitals and applying a current is a known form of torture, whether a Gestapo officer or a psychiatrist is doing it.

Electric shocks to the legs of children for running away is not aversion therapy. It smacks of psychiatry’s old diagnosis of drapetromania given to black slaves of America’s old South for running away [when they were whipped as punishment].  It is punishment in the guise of therapy.

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 government do not want to be seen as protecting a torturer for 45 years either. So, there are vested interests that have wanted this to remain out of the public eye and certainly off the world stage.

It seems that after the government settled [lawyer] Grant Cameron’s claim [on behalf of some Lake Alice survivors] with their ex-gratia, no liability settlement, the matter might fade away. They did not bank on Judge Gallen [in that matter] writing his own report, and so they went to great efforts to suppress that as well.

Containing the fallout has been ongoing, right through our representations to the UN Committee Against Torture from 2010 onward. 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.

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.

Now we want to make sure such a thing can never happen again.

I am not going to recap our submissions but concentrate upon what can be done for the future.  I shall point to additional testimony during the hearing that compels these recommendations.

UN Recommendation

The first recommendation is the UN’s decision in 2019 that called for the application of the corresponding penalties under domestic law to the perpetrators of the “specific torture and/or ill-treatment” of patients.[1]  CCHR endorses that recommendation being put into force against Dr. Leeks and any others named in testimony as being complicit in his child abuse.

Had The Crimes of Torture Act 1989 been available in the 1970s, perhaps the torture of the Lake Alice children would have been properly investigated and possibly averted, although Dr. Leeks had justified its use to authorities as “therapeutic” and behaviour modification or “aversion therapy.” That was a lie.

Perhaps the Act needs greater clarification to bring to justice perpetrators today and in the future.

Section (1) says “In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires, —

  • Act of torture means any act or omission by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person but does not include any act or omission arising only from, or inherent in, or incidental to, any lawful sanctions that are not inconsistent with the Articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights include any act or omission arising only from, or inherent in, or incidental to, any lawful sanctions that are not inconsistent with the Articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights AND the Convention means the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.[2]

Under section 2, interpretation, a public official to whom the act refers, includes subsection iv) “a member and an employee of any local authority or public body.”

Amend Crimes of Torture Act

If not clear or specified in The Crimes of Torture Act 1989, any employee of a state child care institution, including all psychiatric and behavioural facilities constitutes “a member and an employee of any local authority or public body” and shall be subject to prosecution for violations of the act.

WHO Guidelines

On June 10 this year came the timely release of the World Health Organisation’s “Guidance on Community Mental Health Services: Promoting Person-Centred and Rights-Based Approaches.”[3]

It is appropriate in considering reforms the points from the WHO guidelines that are put into the record:

  • Using assertions that people are “at risk of harming themselves or others, or that they need medical treatment to keep them safe” leads to “an over-emphasis on biomedical treatment options and a general acceptance of coercive practices such as involuntary admission and treatment or seclusion and restraint.” [Page 3 of report]
  • In 2008, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) came into force and includes the rights to “Freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and prohibits “coercive practices such as forced admission and treatment, seclusion and restraint, as well as the administering of antipsychotic medication, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and psychosurgery without informed consent.” (p. 7)
  • “Coercive practices are pervasive and are increasingly used in services in countries around the world, despite the lack of evidence that they offer any benefits, and the significant evidence that they lead to physical and psychological harm and even death.” (page 8)

Other References

WHO calls for alternatives to biomedical mental health practices and provides examples of these.  CCHR is familiar with one in particular called Soteria House and recommends the Royal Commission review this on page 49 of the WHO guidelines.

  • In 2013, the Report of Juan E. Méndez, then UN Special Rapporteur on Torture advised that electroshock (even given with anaesthetic and muscle relaxants) may cross a threshold of mistreatment that is tantamount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Specifically, he called for “an absolute ban on all forced and non-consensual medical interventions against persons with disabilities, including the non-consensual administration of psychosurgery, electroshock and mind-altering drugs….”[4]
  • A July 2018 UN Human Rights Council report on “Mental health and human rights” also called on governments to recognise that forced psychiatric treatment, including ECT, “as practices constituting torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment….”[5]
  • The World Health Organization’s Resource Book on Mental Health, Human Rights and Legislation in 2005 also says: “There are no indications for the use of ECT on minors, and hence this should be prohibited through legislation.[6]

John Read, a clinical psychologist, formerly of the University of Auckland for 20 years and now professor of psychology at the University of East London, co-authored a literature review on “The effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy,” and concluded: “Given the strong evidence…of persistent and, for some, permanent brain dysfunction, primarily evidenced in the form of retrograde and anterograde amnesia, and the evidence of a slight but significant increased risk of death, the cost-benefit analysis for ECT is so poor that its use cannot be scientifically justified.”[7]

CCHR’s opinion—based on many expert studies—is that all electroshock should be banned. Based on the direction of international agencies such as the UN and the Royal Commission’s purview to investigate institutional child abuse, any forced use of electroshock should be prohibited. Electroshock without consent constitutes torture.

No Electro Convulsive Treatment

Children are too young to consent and, therefore, any use of electroconvulsive therapy on minors constitutes torture and should be prohibited under NZ’s Mental Health Act.

CCHR provides the Commission with a copy of the section of the 2014 West Australian Mental Health Act, Part 14, (194): ECT on child under 14 years prohibited A person cannot perform electroconvulsive therapy on a child under 14 years of age.  So serious is this considered that under Section 193, it is a criminal offense to violate this, with a penalty of AUS$15,000 (NZ$16,000) and imprisonment of two years.

Combatting Sexual Abuse

The Commission heard from Ms. Sharyn Collis who alleged Dr. Leeks not only tortured her with electroshock, but also sexually assaulted her numerous times.  When she complained to staff, as many other former patients also testified, she was told that she was lying, or that it was the drugs she was prescribed confusing her.[8]

The Medical Council, quite apart from failing in its duty to take action against serious allegations against Dr. Leeks, also appears to have failed to alert the Victorian Medical Practitioners Board when he moved to Australia to practice in 1978 that there had been serious allegations against him. This appears to be because of a deal he struck with the NZ Medical Council.

Dr. Leeks was allowed to move to Australia to continue to practice, safe in the knowledge that he got away with his torture and abuse.  Within a year, as reported by media in Australia, Dr. Leeks sexually assaulted one or more other patients, which continued until, at least, 1980. However, that would not be made public for another 27 years in 2006 when a civil suit was filed against him.[9]

In 2003, The Age newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, confirmed that Victorian police and the medical board there were investigating claims made by several patients treated by Dr. Leeks after he moved to Australia. The article reported that Leeks, “who oversaw the punishment of children with electric-shock therapy at a New Zealand hospital…could be struck off after the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria…decided to investigate his conduct.”[10]

In 2004, The Age again reported that Dr. Leeks had actually obtained employment as a child psychiatrist at a child-guidance clinic. And, astoundingly, in 1986 had also worked as a part-time psychiatrist at the Children’s Court outpatients clinic.[11]

The safety net in both New Zealand and by default due, in part, to the Medical Council, in Australia, was non-existent for women and children.

On the eve of the date set for the formal Victorian medical board hearing in July 2006, Dr. Leeks resigned his license. The Board accepted this and the hearing, therefore, never took place.  A month later, an Australian court ordered Dr. Leeks to pay a paltry $55,000 (NZ$59,000) in damages for sexually abusing a former patient, a mother of two. Judge Jim Duggan said in his verdict at the time: “I conclude that a senior and well-credentialed psychiatrist took advantage of the vulnerability of a disturbed psychiatric patient for the purposes of sexual gratification.”

The victim, then aged 54, asserted that Dr. Leeks fondled her breasts and put his finger into her vagina during consultations in 1979 or 1980. She said that when she stopped her visits, he urged her not to disclose what he had done, telling her: ‘You’re a long-term psychiatric patient and no one will believe you.’” [12]

Sound familiar?  Authorities and Dr. Leeks’ colleagues could have stopped this from happening in Australia had it been properly investigated here first.

Dr. Leeks still wouldn’t take responsibility for the sexual abuse and appealed the decision, but without success. The patient told media in 2008: “If you’re drugged and have a very clever psychiatrist, it’s very easy for them to take advantage of you and know that you’ll keep your mouth shut. I would do [the court case] again, he’s an abuser and he needs to be totally out of the system.”[13]

Still, Dr. Leeks escaped real justice once again.

Health Practitioner Reporting

Under its regulations, the NZ Medical Council advises an employer, colleague or health practitioner that: “If you work in the medical sector and have concerns about a registered doctor, you can refer the matter to the Council.”[14]  The Psychologists Board is required to forward formal complaints that allege that the practice or conduct of a psychologist has affected a health consumer to the Health and Disability Commissioner.[15]

Similar laws exist in the U.S. where some state laws specifically address psychiatrists, psychologist and psychotherapist sexual abuse of patients, including children, and also where they fail to report practitioners, they become aware of sexually abusing patients. There are at least five states—California, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin that cite failing to report as a violation of the law and professional misconduct. Texas and Wisconsin include criminal penalties, with Wisconsin being up to nine months in jail and/or a $10,000 (NZ$14,000) fine. 

Reporting Matters to the Police

The Professional Conduct Committee of the Medical Council must be required to refer incidents of a healthcare practitioner sexual abuse of a patient to the police, with an emphasis that “consent” on behalf of the patient is not a defense.  Any forced psychiatric treatment on a minor or adult should also be reported to the police, especially where damage was incurred from that enforced treatment. This should also be extended to the Psychologists’ Board to be mandated to report similar incidents to the police.

Apologies Do Not Go Far Enough

We’ve heard a lot of apologies from the Medical Council, the police, and earlier from the former Prime Minister, Helen Clark.[16]  But the fact remains that it took Paul Zentveld on behalf of the Lake Alice survivors and CCHR to recognise the injustice of the inaction to take this to the United Nations to force authorities to finally act.

We thank lead counsel, Mr. Molloy, for his comment that “There are not many lawyers, let alone laypeople, who have taken the matter to the United Nations, let alone have succeeded there.”[17]

It should never have gotten to this.

One of the problems we believe the police faced is not looking at the physical assault the Lake Alice children were subjected to as a criminal act, but, in some way, mitigated by the fact that 1) they were “mentally ill” and 2) a psychiatrist, was an “expert” telling them this was therapy.

Any psychiatric practice, where it can physically damage the patient and irreversibly injure the body and brain, has to be viewed in the context of assault.

The Crimes of Torture Act 1989 rests, in part, on the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment which refers in its preamble and under Article 16 to international instruments which “prohibit cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”[18]

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. They should also recognise that the person could be seriously damaged and influenced by the treatment given them, making it harder for them to speak out in order to seek justice.

Dr. Leeks’ words to his Australian victim was that she would not be believed if she spoke out about his sexual assault of her because she was a “psychiatric patient.”

According to The Sunday Herald in Australia in 2004, when questioned by New Zealand police in the 1970s about his abuse of children, Dr. Leeks dismissed this, stating that the children he treated were “feral and psychotic and were future murderers and thieves. Society would realise one day that he was ahead of his time.”[19]

Even the NZ magistrate in 1977 did not accept the allegations that shock therapy was used as punishment, forcing CCHR to protest and pursue the fight for justice more vigorously.[20]

Alan Hendricks testified that his father, a nurse at Lake Alice, had him involuntarily detained there, when he did not even have a mental illness of any kind.[21]  No one believed him: one of the most common statements made throughout this hearing.

We heard clinical psychologist John Watson’s evidence that he raised concerns with his superiors at Holdsworth School but Dr Selwyn Leeks claimed the ECT was only being administered as treatment.[22] No-one questioned this further.

When asked in the hearing why no one in the profession spoke out against the methods of Dr Leeks, Dr. David Baron answered: “You couldn’t, you know you couldn’t.”

Karen Feint QC said to Dr Baron that to put it bluntly, it smacks of the medical profession closing ranks. “Yes,” he said.[23]

Let me just remind Dr. Baron and those mental health care professionals that were around at that time of the victims being abused that that “closing of the ranks” helped increase the former patients’ trauma and pain.  This was clear in such testimony as:

Rangi Wickliffe gave a very powerful and moving testimony about his experiences at Lake Alice: “I have been raped. I have been sodomised. The little boy inside me has spoken.” He was 10 years old.[24]  He also said he developed a mindset of seeking revenge for what happened to him, of hatred and fury.[25]

Tyrone Marks, aged 11 when at Lake Alice, said he holds Leeks and his staff responsible for what happened, describing them as a “team of maggots.”  What Dr. Leeks was doing to children, he said, “was playing with our lives. He was electrocuting us.”[26]

While Tom, who spoke anonymously, said ECT was “was dished out like lollies.” [27] A practice that at the time, could have fractured children’s spines and even with anaesthesia and muscle relaxants administered, could have caused long-term brain damage.

Lake Alice exemplifies everything that is wrong with the mental health and child institutional system.

Dr. Barry Parsonson put it into perspective, when he compared the use of ECT as a form of aversion therapy that involved electrodes being placed on a person’s groin or genitalia, to techniques used by the Nazi secret police. “There is nothing I have ever read in the literature [like that]…the only people who did that were state organs of terror, mainly the Gestapo,” he said.[28]

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.

Following Orders

CCHR rejects former Lake Alice psychiatric nurse, Brian Stabb’s evidence that “In terms of [electroshock] being an organised punishment… that did not happen.”  It rejects his assertion that the ECT machine was not displayed to patients as a threat.  CCHR further rejects his statement to the effect that psychiatrists were considered omnipotent in wards at the time and staff had to do as they were told.[29]

Conscience and the need to protect the children should have trumped such self-serving concerns.  He and others had a duty to care.

Mr. Stabb said he was “under the impression that any sort of whistleblowing would … result in my prosecution.”[30] There were professional organisations he could have turned to, albeit, as we now know, ineffective ones.  But, perhaps, had enough professionals spoken out and spurred a massive public outcry it would have stopped then and there, rather than leaving it to those victims who did speak out to members of CCHR and ACORD.

It should be noted that when members of CCHR first toured Lake Alice in January 1976, the children took them aside to talk to them for fear of the nurses punishing them for speaking out.

We heard from some of the staff that they were following orders.

But following orders at Lake Alice meant harming children. Take away the hospital setting and the psychiatric jargon and what do you see? Ill-treatment and torture.

To quote award-winning journalist, Aaron Smale, who has done a series of investigations into the abuse that went on in state care, “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.” [31]

The Crimes of Torture Act must be amended, as needed, to ensure the police can easily prosecute practices that are coercive, inhuman, degrading and torture. I’ve previously referred to UN and WHO reports that define such practices.

Section 3 of The Crimes of Torture Act describes penalties for acts of torture as:

(1) Every person is liable upon conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 14 years who, being a person to whom this section applies or acting at the instigation or with the consent or acquiescence of such a person, whether in or outside New Zealand,—

(a) commits an act of torture; or

(b) does or omits an act for the purpose of aiding any person to commit an act of torture; or

(c) abets any person in the commission of an act of torture; or

(d) incites, counsels, or procures any person to commit an act of torture.[32]

In retrospect, those staff who were complicit either by directly contributing to delivery of electroshock and drugs as punishment to the children or failing to report it, should be prosecuted.

Juan E. Mendez, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment reports on this in the framework of the health-care setting:

  • “The Committee against Torture interprets State obligations to prevent torture as indivisible, interrelated, and interdependent with the obligation to prevent cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment (ill-treatment) because ‘conditions that give rise to ill-treatment frequently facilitate torture.’ It has established that “each State party should prohibit, prevent and redress torture and ill-treatment in all contexts of custody or control, for example, in prisons, hospitals, schools, institutions that engage in the care of children, the aged, the mentally ill or disabled, in military service, and other institutions as well as contexts where the failure of the State to intervene encourages and enhances the danger of privately inflicted harm.” [33]
  • “Indeed, the State’s obligation to prevent torture applies not only to public officials, such as law enforcement agents, but also to doctors, health-care professionals and social workers, including those working in private hospitals, other institutions and detention centres (A/63/175, para. 51). As underlined by the Committee against Torture, the prohibition of torture must be enforced in all types of institutions and States must exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate, prosecute and punish violations by non-State officials or private actors.”[34]
  • “Ensuring special protection of minority and marginalized groups and individuals is a critical component of the obligation to prevent torture and ill-treatment. Both the Committee against Torture and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have confirmed that States have a heightened obligation to protect vulnerable and/or marginalized individuals from torture, as such individuals are generally more at risk of experiencing torture and ill-treatment.”[35] 

Mandating the Reporting of Child Abuse

CCHR sees the need for accountability for protecting children further 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.

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.

This may require amendments to existing laws such as, but not limited to. the “Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, Children’s and Young People’s Well-being Act 1989.”

CCHR recommends legislation be amended to make it clear that reporting child abuse is mandatory and includes that a healthcare or other professional or state-employed caretaker suspected of such an offense be reported.

Currently, the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, Children’s and Young People’s Well-being Act 1989” states:

  • Section 14 AA: Circumstances in which child or young person is suffering, or is likely to suffer, serious harm (1) For the purposes of section 14(1)(a)(i), a child or young person is suffering, or is likely to suffer, serious harm if—

(a) the child or young person is being, or is likely to be, abused (whether physically, emotionally, or sexually), deprived, ill-treated, or neglected.[36]

  • Section 15: Reporting of concerns to chief executive or constable: Any person who believes that a child or young person has been, or is likely to be, harmed, ill-treated, abused, (whether physically, emotionally, or sexually), neglected, or deprived, or who has concerns about the well-being of a child or young person, may report the matter to the chief executive or a constable.[37]

Reporting Matters to the Police

It must be clear that incidents of professional healthcare workers believed to be physically harming or ill-treating a child must also be reported to the police, not just the chief executive of a facility.

Whistleblower protections should be afforded those reporting the abuse. Section 16 says: Providing information about safety or well-being of child or young person: No civil, criminal, or disciplinary proceedings shall lie against any person in respect of the disclosure or supply, or the manner of the disclosure or supply, by that person under this Part, of information concerning a child or young person (whether or not that information also concerns any other person), unless the information was disclosed or supplied in bad faith. [38]

Failure to Report Matters: Criminal

As the Royal Commission has heard, few professionals spoke out against the Lake Alice atrocities, criminal penalties should be enacted should there be a failure to report a serious incident of child abuse by a healthcare professional/mental health care worker. Language could include:

  • Child abuse shall be defined as: “the physical or mental injury, sexual abuse or exploitation, or negligent treatment of a child.”
  • Examples of child abuse include:
    • A physical injury inflicted on a child by another person other than by accidental means.
    • The sexual abuse, assault, or exploitation of a child.
    • The negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child by a person responsible for the child’s welfare under circumstances indicating harm or threatened harm to the child’s health or welfare. This is whether the harm or threatened harm is from acts or omissions on the part of the responsible person.
    • The willful harming or endangerment of the person or health of a child, any cruel or inhumane corporal punishment or any injury resulting in a traumatic condition, including the use of electroconvulsive therapy or punitive use of other mental health care treatment.
  • “A person who, while engaged in a professional capacity or activity in a state or privately operated (or contracted) facility, learns of facts that give reason to suspect that a child has suffered an incident of child abuse, shall be mandated to make a report of the suspected abuse to a designated agency and police.”
  • “When such reports are received by social services or health care agencies, and involve allegations of sexual abuse, serious physical injury, or life-threatening neglect of a child, there shall be an immediate referral of the report to a law enforcement agency with authority to take emergency action to protect the child. All reports received shall be promptly investigated.”
  • “All persons who, acting in good faith, make a report, or otherwise provide information or assistance in connection with a report, investigation, or legal intervention pursuant to a report, shall be immune from civil and criminal liability arising out of such actions. There shall be a presumption that any such persons acted in good faith.”
  • “Mandated reporters are required to give their names when making a report. However, the reporter’s identity is kept confidential. Mandated reporters have immunity from state criminal or civil liability for reporting as required. This is true even if the mandated reporter acquired the knowledge, or suspicion of the abuse or neglect, outside his/her professional capacity or scope of employment.”
  • “A person who fails to make a required report is guilty of a misdemeanour punishable by up to six months in jail and/or fine.”[39]

 Psychotropic Drugs and Children

The Commission has also heard that paraldehyde injections left the children like zombies for days.[40]  This and other drugs were administered without consent and were given as punishment for mild misbehaviour at Lake Alice.

Today, according to a 2020 study, the practice of giving mind-altering psychotropic drugs to children in this country is alarming. The number of New Zealand children and youths aged 0-17 prescribed a psychotropic drug increased more than 63 percent between 2008 and 2016 alone. The most mind-numbing psychotropics, antipsychotics, increased by 105.6 percent and antidepressants that carry warnings of suicidal ideation and risk of suicide increased by over 78 percent.[41]

What Needs to Change

Malcolm Richard told this hearing: “My first hope is that we are listened to and taken seriously, unlike past treatment. I know the government settled with us, but they did not find out what really happened to us. Our voices were not heard and no-one was held to account. They gave us money and tried to bury it.”[42]  He called for electroshock to be banned. [43]

A United Nations Health Rights expert, Dr. Dainius Pūras, issued a report in 2017, calling for a revolution in mental health care around the world to “end decades of neglect, abuse and violence.” [44]  

We have the opportunity to do this with the Royal Commission.

Dr. Pūras said: “Mental health care needs to move away from a biomedical (drug) model” and forced physically damaging practices. “There is now unequivocal evidence of the failures of a system that relies too heavily on the biomedical model of mental health services, including the front-line and excessive use of psychotropic medicines, and yet these models persist.” Dr. Pūras, who is also head of the Centre for Child Psychiatry Social Paediatrics at Vilnius University, Lithuania, warns that power and decision-making in mental health are concentrated in the hands of “biomedical gatekeepers,” particularly those representing biological psychiatry.[45]

This needs to change.

He repeated such comments in an interview with The Psychiatric Times published earlier this month. He said “…the problem of accountability in global mental health and psychiatry remains very serious.”[46]

It was certainly the case with Lake Alice.  And it is why CCHR makes the recommendations it has to correct this today.

Chief Counsel, Brigadier General Telford Taylor in his opening statement to the Nuremberg Medical Trials emphasised that this was “no mere murder trial,” because the defendants were physicians who had sworn to “do no harm” and to abide by the Hippocratic Oath.  He told the judges that the people of the world needed to know “with conspicuous clarity” the ideas and motives that moved these doctors “to treat their fellow human beings as less than beasts,” and that “brought about such savageries” so that they could be “cut out and exposed before they become a spreading cancer in the breast of humanity.”[47]

That message is as poignant now as it was then. This Royal Commission Inquiry has taken the time to investigate the ideas and motives of Dr. Selwyn Leeks as well as the system that allowed him to treat children as “less than beasts.”

You have allowed New Zealand, and indeed the world, to learn of the savageries that have marked the country’s mental health system and you now have the power to restore its humanity.

Ensure Dr. Leeks 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.


[1] “UN urges investigation into torture at NZ psychiatric facility,” New Zealand Herald, 9 Jan 2020,


[3] download report

[4] A/HRC/22/53, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez,” United Nations, General Assembly, Human Rights Council, Twenty-second Session, Agenda Item 3, 1 Feb. 2013, p. 1, Summary,

[5] “Mental health and human rights:  Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development,” Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General, Human Rights Council, 10-28 Sept. 2018, p. 14, point 46.


[7] John Read, Ph.D., et al., “The effectiveness of electroconvulsive therapy: A literature review (2010),” Epidemiologia e Psichiatria Sociale, 19, 4, 2010,

[8] Andrew McRae, “Lake Alice abuse: Former patient accuses Dr Selwyn Leeks of rape,” Radio NZ, 18 June 2021,

[9] Phillip Hickey, Ph.D., “Torture at Lake Alice ‘Hospital,’ New Zealand,” Behaviorism and Mental Health, 2 Mar. 2021,

[10] Probe on shock doctor claims,” The Age, 11 July 2003,

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

[12] Op cit., Probe on shock doctor claims,” The Age, 11 July 2003,

[13] “’Shock’ doctor loses appeal against payout,” The Age, 2 Mar. 2008,



[16] “Lake Alice survivor told he was wasting police time when he made first complaint,” Stuff NZ, 21 June 2021,

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


[19] Op. cit., “Psychiatrist under scrutiny again,” The Age

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

[21] Andrew McRae (RNZ) “Son says dad sent him to Lake Alice Hospital ‘to get rid’ of him,” 1 News, 17 June 2021,

[22] Corazon Miller, “Concerns over electrocution practices at Lake Alice were raised 50 years ago,” 1 News, 15 June 2021,

[23] “Many psychiatric staff in 70s lacked qualifications, doctor tells Abuse in Care inquiry,” Otago Daily News, 23 June 2021,

[24] Jimmy Ellingham, “Tortured boy turned to crime as he sought revenge for his ordeal,” Stuff NZ, 16 June 2021,


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

[27] Rachel Moore, “Man left with burns due to electric shock treatment at Lake Alice,” 23 June 2021,

[28] Corozon Miller, “Controversial electroshock therapy can be life-saving in small number of cases — psychiatrist,” 1 News, 20 June 2021,

[29] Andrew McRae, “Lake Alice use of electric shocks on children ‘cruel and barbaric’ – psychiatric nurse,” RNZ, 21 June 2021,

[30] Michael Morrah, “Lake Alice abuse: Former nurse reveals ‘barbaric and cruel’ practices used as ‘treatment,’” Newshub; 21 June 2021,

[31] Op. cit., Corazon Miller, “Those who suffered as children at Manawatu psychiatric hospital to share their stories.”

[32] Crimes of Torture Act, 1989,

[33] Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez, to the UN Human Rights Council, 1 Feb 2013, Point B, 2 (23)

[34] Ibid, Point B, 2 (24)

[35] Ibid, Point B, 2 (26)

[36] Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, Children’s and Young People’s Well-being Act 1989, Section 14 AA: Circumstances in which child or young person is suffering, or is likely to suffer, serious harm,  (1) (a)

[37] Oranga Tamariki Act 1989, Children’s and Young People’s Well-being Act 1989, Section 15,; Section 15: replaced, on 1 July 2019, by section 18 of the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Oranga Tamariki) Legislation Act 2017 (2017 No 31).

[38]; Section 16 heading: replaced, on 1 July 2019, by section 19(1) of the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Oranga Tamariki) Legislation Act 2017 (2017 No 31); Section 16: amended, on 1 July 2019, by section 19(2) of the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families (Oranga Tamariki) Legislation Act 2017 (2017 No 31);Section 16: amended, on 8 January 1995, by section 5 of the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Amendment Act 1994 (1994 No 121).

[39] Based on California, Child Abuse Identification & Reporting Guidelines,

[40] Rachel Moore, “Lake Alice staff restrained children during electric shock therapy to avoid dislocated joints,” Stuff NZ, 21 June 2021,

[41] Zoe A Barczyk  et al., “Psychotropic Medication Prescription Rates and Trends for New Zealand Children and Adolescents 2008-2016,”  J Child Adolesc Psychopharmacology, Mar. 2020 r;30(2):87-96;; “Re: Updated information and advice about the use of antidepressant medicines,” Medsafe (NZ), 19 Oct. 2004.

[42] “Lake Alice Hospital survivor tells abuse inquiry of ‘”lifelong, hideous effects,’” RNZ, 20 June 2021,

[43] Ibid. lifelong-hideous-effects

[44] “World needs ‘revolution’ in mental health care – UN rights expert,”;

[45] Ibid. “World needs ‘revolution’ in mental health care – UN rights expert,”.

[46] Awais Aftab, MD, “Global Psychiatry’s Crisis of Values: Dainius Pūras, MD,” Psychiatric Times, 3 June 2021,

[47] Evelyne Shuster, Ph.D.,Fifty Years Later: The Significance of the Nuremberg Code,” New England Journal of Medicine, 18 Jan 2021,