30 Jun 2021

Lake Alice abuse inquiry finishes its public hearing: 'Finally our voice has been heard'

8:12 am on 30 June 2021

The Abuse in Care inquiry has wrapped up its public hearing looking at abuse of young people at Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital in the 1970s, with a survivor saying the darkness and shame carried by all survivors has begun to lift in the light of exposing the truth.

Lake Alice Hospital

The Abuse in Care inquiry has wrapped up its public hearing into the abuse of young people at Lake Alice Psychiatric Hospital (pictured) in the 1970s. Photo: PUBLIC DOMAIN./ Pawful

Over 300 young people went through the child and adolescent unit between 1972 and 1978 and many were abused, sexually and physically, often with electric shock treatment and painful drugs, such as paraldehyde.

Those who have made submissions to the Royal Commission identified the unit's lead psychiatrist, Selwyn Leeks, and his team, as responsible for the abuse, survivors deemed as torture.

Two weeks and two days of a public hearing and about 40 witnesses has left the last word to survivors.

One of them was Leonie McInroe.

''Whakarongo mai, whakarongo mai, listen to me, hear me, and so our story began. Formally and finally taking our rightful place in the history of Aotearoa.''

She said while the hearing, may be for some the healing balm to gently move forward, it must create change.

She quoted a statement made at the beginning of the hearing by Commission lead counsel, Andrew Molloy.

''The children of Lake Alice, known or unknown, alive or in memory, wherever you are, whakarongo mai, whakarongo mai. Finally our voice has been heard.''

Read some of the victim's testimony during the inquiry:

  • Lake Alice survivor: 'Their blood in on the government's hands'
  • Lake Alice abuse and ECT: 'I had no idea why I had been shocked'
  • Lake Alice Hospital survivor tells abuse inquiry of 'lifelong, hideous effects'
  • Lake Alice abuse: Former patient accuses Dr Selwyn Leeks of rape
  • Lake Alice Hospital treatments damaged memory, survivor says
    • One of the lawyers for survivors, Alana Thomas, had a blunt message for the commissioners from the children of Lake Alice.

      ''The state failed them prior to their admission to Lake Alice by placing them in care situations that lead them to being abused and assaulted.

      "The state failed them during time at Lake Alice and failing to protect them from what only can be described as torture at the hands of Dr Selwyn Leeks and other Lake Alice staff.''

      Thomas said the state continued to fail them once they left the unit by ignoring and trivialising their complaints.

      She said survivors have been living with the effects of the trauma for over 40 years.

      ''It is something that seems like it could only happen in a movie, but this is not a movie, this was the reality for the 300 plus children that suffered because of its existence. This was how children were treated while in state care and this is New Zealand's history.'

      ''Their children carry the inter-generational effects. Many survivors have, through breathtaking tenacity risen above the shadow of Lake Alice, but many have not.''

      Thomas said the trauma and memories of what happened still haunts survivors.

      France Joychild QC, also representing survivors, said while there have been apologies from the Crown, what happened to the children was a massive human rights violation.

      ''It's absolutely pathetic and hopeless and a massive failing on the part of our pre-eminent legal advisor to this government to create the human rights framework to deal with this case.''

      She said the state's approach to human rights at Lake Alice has been haphazard from the beginning.

      Karen Feint QC has represented the Crown at the hearing.

      ''The evidence is abundantly clear that the authorities failed to protect the children sent to Lake Alice, many of whom were state wards.

      "The Crown had a duty, both legal and moral duty to ensure that all children in state run institutions were safe and cared for and that any medical treatment was appropriate. It failed to discharge that duty.''

      She said what happened marked a dark chapter in the nation's history.

      ''The Crown considers the treatment of children at the unit was completely unacceptable. The Crown is not here to defend the conduct of Dr Leeks or any practices that amounted to punishment under the guise of medical treatment.''

      Feint said it is obvious the Crown got many things wrong and has much to apologise for.

      Hayden Rattray represented Dr Selwyn Leeks at the hearing via an audio visual link from Melbourne.

      He reiterated that his client, who is now 92 was unfit to take part, because of his age, health and cognitive capacity.

      Rattray said that must rule out any recommendation for action against Dr Leeks.

      ''This commission is about much more than the alleged conduct of Dr Leeks. In fact I submit the true focus of the commission is and should be on the myriad failings of a system that among other failings has allowed such serious allegations to go untested for near on half a century.''

      Rattray said it would be impossible for any criminal trial against Dr Leeks to be conducted fairly.

      ''The commission can I submit if it was so-minded say to the survivors of Lake Alice that they have been heard and that they have been believed and the commission can do that without making findings adverse to Dr Leeks.''

      He said survivors best remedy would be to seek damages, which could be substantive.

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