By Martin Johnston
May 24, 2012
Zapping a teenage boy on the testicles with an electric shock machine because he was considered naughty was an act far outside normal practice, a medical academic told police.
“In summary, Dr [Selwyn] Leeks’ treatments appeared to depart significantly from the standards of the day,” wrote Dr Garry Walter, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Sydney.
“This was in the areas of his direct clinical care – including his method of use of electrical treatments, and his dubious reasons for some of those treatments – his level of supervision of staff … and his documentation … .”
Aucklander Paul Zentveld, aged 51, who was admitted to the now-closed Lake Alice Hospital near Wanganui five times as a teenager, said yesterday that he was one of several males at the child and adolescent unit who were punished by being given electro-convulsive “therapy” on their genitals.
Dr Leeks, who subsequently shifted to Melbourne, was in charge of the unit, which operated from 1972 to 1977.
Mr Zentveld said he was given ECT as punishment for bed-wetting, which was later attributed by a urologist to a medical condition.
Mr Zentveld said he was mistreated this way in eight sessions, each involving three separate shocks. It was done without anaesthetic.
“The pain was just excruciating.”
He was speaking after the Herald revealed yesterday that the United Nations committee against torture asked the Government on May 7 to explain its response to complaints from former child and adolescent patients of Lake Alice.
It wants to know if there will be an independent assessment of the police investigation of complaints of child torture, which ended in 2009 without any prosecutions of former Lake Alice staff and without some of the complainants being interviewed by police.
Dr Leeks, who is in his early 80s, could not be reached for comment. He has previously denied wrongdoing at Lake Alice.
The police asked Professor Walter to comment on alleged mistreatment at Lake Alice.
His report was obtained under the Official Information Act by the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, which sent a copy to the UN committee.
Commenting on practices from the 1970s, Professor Walter said it was appropriate to treat children with ECT – after first administering anaesthetic and muscle relaxant medications and with the electrodes applied only to the head – for conditions including major depression.
Low-level electrical current had been used in “aversion therapy”, to treat behaviour disorders, but ECT had never been medically approved for this purpose.
ECT via the genitals or knees would not produce a convulsion, the desired effect; might harm the affected part of the body; and might cause long-term psychological problems.
“Patients would regard this as a procedure whose primary purpose was to punish, rather than to treat.”
The commission has called for the Government to reopen the police investigation.
Police have previously said there was no evidence of criminal offending.
The Justice Ministry has said the Government will respond to the committee.