16 Jun 2021

Lake Alice ECT abuse: Calls for Dr Selwyn Leeks to face justice

5:31 pm on 16 June 2021

Warning: This story contains graphic details of child abuse.

Kevin Banks was first sent to Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital in 1973 at the age of 14 and his life has never been the same since. He is now 62.

Lake Alice Hospital

Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital. Photo: PUBLIC DOMAIN./ Pawful

He spent a total of two years in the hospital's child and adolescent unit in three separate periods through to the age of 16.

Banks went in with no mental illness but after coming out he has since suffered depression, PTSD and memory loss - all, he said, a result of his time in Lake Alice. He spoke to the Royal Commission of Inquiry into Abuse in Care.

"They have ruined my quality of life."

He said he had always tried to get justice for those who had the misfortune to be in Lake Alice while Dr Selwyn Leeks was in charge.

"Basically, our lives and potential were destroyed in that place.

"I was broken by what Dr Leeks and other staff did to me and as I have grown older the impacts have got worse, not better."

He said it was a deep grievance of his that Leeks was never brought to justice in a criminal trial.

Banks vividly remembered his first day at Lake Alice.

"I was grabbed by two male nurses, my mother walked as far as the office but was cut off there. I was taken upstairs by three nurses. Dr Leeks was there and he explained what the shock box was and how it worked. He then gave me my first ECT (electroconvulsive therapy). There was no anaesthetic and the male nurses held me down while it was being given."

He said he would have received between 60 and 70 electric shocks in the time he was at Lake Alice; once or twice a week in a good week, and half a dozen times in a bad week.

These were administered on his head, legs, arms and sometimes genitals.

He said he could not put the pain of unmodified ECT (without anaesthetic) into words as nothing compared with the intensity of the pain.

"Dr Leeks would start off low and then turn the dial to high. On low, it was like little sledgehammers hitting my head and they got like bigger sledgehammers as the dial was turned up.

"On high, the pain was like razor blades cutting through my head. The head was worse for pain than my arms and legs, but getting it on them was enough to absolutely stun you."

Banks describes getting ECT on his genitals as horrific.

"Like hot needles going into your testicles. I still have sensations of the same pain in the areas I got ECT."

Electroconvulsive therapy as punishment

A lot of ECT was administered on a Friday, which staff called 'black Friday'.

He said the unmodified ECT was for punishment.

"You got it if your name was in 'Dr Leeks' blue diary' and it was the staff that would put you down for this during the week."

He said it would be handed out for small transgressions like talking back to staff, smoking cigarette butts or running down the road.

"I would wet my bed with fear of Thursday nights because I was so petrified of ECT. On the Friday morning all the boys would all be gathered in the dayroom waiting in fear to see if they were going to be called up for ECT.

"The boys were in terror and many would be crying in fear."

He said Leeks would sometimes come into the dayroom and speak.

"Who is for the zap or who is for a ride on the thunderbolt, or who is for the national grid?"

He said in the day room the boys could hear the screaming and cries of pain from those who were getting it.

"I recall some of the boys urinating in fear when they were pointed out as the ones who were going to have ECT next."

He said just seeing those coming out of the room who had had ECT was terrifying.

"Some had water dripping down their temples, some had blood coming out of their mouths and all of them would be dazed. Sometimes they had to be carried down because they would have been unconscious,"

Banks said there were children as young as five and six who received ECT without anaesthetic.

"I thought I would rather be dead than keep on living at Lake Alice.

"A couple of days later I got unmodified ECT as a punishment. I knew it was for the suicide attempt because a couple of nurses taunted me about it."

He said that sometimes he would receive ECT for up to two minutes.

"Dr Leeks would turn the dial on the shock machine up and down during this time. This varied the intensity of the shocks through the electrodes. Sometimes a nurse would sit right on my body to prevent my body convulsing too much."

Banks and another boy were caught smoking at one stage and they were given an electric shock.

"He strapped our arms crosswise to each other by a trouser belt and placed the electrodes on each of our arms and Dr Leeks gave us a shock. He played the dial for about 30 seconds."

He said Leeks got him and other boys to give ECT to two different boys on different occasions.

"Both had sexually assaulted me and other boys.

"Dr Leeks asked us to plug in the extension cord and said we were all going to use the ECT machine on the boy. He told us we were to move the knob as far to the right as far as possible.

"I didn't really want to do it but I remember I did turn the dial as far as I could, as I was afraid if I didn't do it properly, Dr Leeks would give me ECT.

"I recall the horror on the boy's face who was receiving it. He looked like he was screaming but not a sound was coming out of his mouth."

Banks said he also received the drug, Paraldehyde, more than 50 times as a punishment.

"When the injection first went in it was a very cold feeling, but then the feeling turned to hot burning acid. The injection would normally be put into the buttocks and the pain would go down the whole leg. It would be very painful."

Banks said he wanted police to charge Leeks even if he was aged 92.

"He showed no sympathy for us in our vulnerability and he's had the benefit of a good, free life ever since he left Lake Alice."

Leeks and the law

Leeks left New Zealand for Australia not long after the unit closed in 1978.

Earlier this week, his lawyer Hayden Rattray spoke to the inquiry via an audio link from Melbourne.

Leeks was designated a core participant in the inquiry in April 2021 and he was assessed by a euro-psychologist in March 2021.

Rattray said Leeks was 92 years old and not in good health.

Last year, Citizens Commission for Human Rights director Mike Ferriss said Leeks was the main person of interest, but others could be equally culpable.

No one who worked at Lake Alice has been charged yet.

In 2010, after police investigated allegations by 40 people, it said no criminal charges would be laid against Leeks.

A new investigation launched in 2018 is yet to conclude.

Where to get help:

Need to Talk? Free call or text 1737 any time to speak to a trained counsellor, for any reason.

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 or text HELP to 4357

Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 / 0508 TAUTOKO (24/7). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Depression Helpline: 0800 111 757 (24/7) or text 4202

Samaritans: 0800 726 666 (24/7)

Youthline: 0800 376 633 (24/7) or free text 234 (8am-12am), or email talk@youthline.co.nz

What's Up: online chat (3pm-10pm) or 0800 WHATSUP / 0800 9428 787 helpline (12pm-10pm weekdays, 3pm-11pm weekends)

Kidsline (ages 5-18): 0800 543 754 (24/7)

Rural Support Trust Helpline: 0800 787 254

Healthline: 0800 611 116

Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155

If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.

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