“When I filed my claim, instead of compassion, validation & an apology, I received 9 gruelling years of emotional abuse and bullying from the Crown”
Crown set up secret Lake Alice meeting
Ex-Lake Alice chief psychiatrist flew from Australia for secret mediation meeting. David Williams reports
Crown lawyers were instrumental in organising – and hushing up – a meeting to settle a $1.5 million lawsuit which involved the secret return to New Zealand of the former head psychiatrist of a notorious children’s mental hospital.
In the 1970s, Dr Selwyn Leeks ran the Lake Alice child and adolescent unit, near Whanganui. Youngsters, many of them misdiagnosed and sent there wrongly, were routinely punished for minor infractions with electric shocks, without anaesthetic or muscle relaxants. After the practice was exposed, the unit was shut down and Leeks left for Australia.
Lake Alice is one of this country’s darkest chapters of child abuse in state care.
No one has ever been charged with criminal behaviour at Lake Alice, despite uncontested evidence of the abuse and torture of children. Last year, a United Nations committee found successive governments had violated the UN Convention against Torture for not properly investigating dozens of claims and holding anyone to account.
Yesterday, at an Abuse in Care Royal Commission hearing in Auckland, it was revealed Leeks secretly flew back to New Zealand in 1998, with the tacit knowledge and involvement of Crown lawyers, to try and settle a High Court claim by Auckland woman Leonie McInroe and another Lake Alice survivor. McInroe took civil action against the Crown and Leeks in 1994 over abuse at Lake Alice, seeking damages of $1.5 million.
Four years later, as the mediation meeting approached, McInroe was sworn to secrecy.
A letter from Crown Law’s Ian Carter, written to McInroe’s lawyer Philippa Cunningham, said it would “not be productive” for the mediation to become the subject of publicity “whether focused on Dr Leeks or otherwise”. “The mediation can only be held on the basis that the fact, time and place of the mediation will remain confidential.”
Carter’s letter, disclosed at yesterday’s hearing, said child advocate group Citizens Commission for Human Rights tried to tip off then Health Minister Bill English that Leeks was returning to the country, and asked “whether the Minister was intending to take any action”.
It’s not clear if the message got through.
Former prime minister English, who was since been knighted, told Newsroom he doesn’t comment publicly on anything. Newsroom asked Carter, who no longer works for Crown Law, given what Leeks was accused of why did the Crown allow Leeks back into the country without arranging a police interview. The barrister, who lists the McInroe v Leeks case on his website, referred our query to Crown Law.
Mike Ferriss, the New Zealand director of Citizens Commission on Human Rights, a group aligned with the Church of Scientology, didn’t know until yesterday Leeks had attended the 1998 meeting. It was his predecessor, Steve Green, who tried to warn English. “Nothing came of it and that’s the point,” Ferriss says.
McInroe revisited the darkest days of her life at the Royal Commission yesterday. She underlined her firm belief Leeks was protected by the Crown and the psychiatric profession. The Crown assumed the role of abuser and perpetrator, she said, despite having evidence Leeks gave her drugs and electric shock treatment without justification.